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Surge of Phishing Kits Hits the Net

Researchers are investigating an unusually high volume of free phishing kits - over 400 - now in the wild

Researchers have discovered a cache of over 400 do-it-yourself phishing kits now in the wild -- including some used by phishers to phish other phishers.

The phishing kits, which include some traditionally distributed by a phishing group known as “Mr. Brain” that offers free phishing kits that surreptitiously target other phishers, are set up to go after social networks, video-sharing, VOIP, and free email service providers as well as the usual financial services victims. Among the banks that are being targeted by the freebie and easy-to-use kits are Barclays, BankOne, Charter, Chase, Citibank, and HSBC, according to researchers at Trend Micro, which are investigating this development.

“Finding a cache that large is not the norm,” says Paul Ferguson, Trend Micro, who says the typical booty is five or 10 phishing kits in the wild rather than hundreds at a time. “They are spanning beyond their collateral base to capitalize on every phishing resource out there -- to free email hosting and Web tools... not just banks.”

Ferguson says this sudden surge of phishing kits in the wild is just another example of how brazen phishers have become. “These guys don’t really care if people find [their sites]. They will just have them somewhere else,” he says. “They are operating brazenly out in the open without fear of reprisal. That’s the mentality of underground crime. It’s easy money.”

The ease at which these kits were discovered comes as no surprise to researchers such as Nitesh Dhanjani, who, along with fellow researcher Billy Rios, recently infiltrated the phisher community to get an inside look at how it operates. (See Researchers Expose 'Stupid Phisher Tricks'.)

“It is quite easy to find phishing kits by following the trail from a given phishing site: All you have to do is Google for patterns found in the client side code (HTML and JavaScript) or the server side code if available,” Dhanjani says. “You will be surprised where the search trail will lead you -- to message boards where people's identities are being traded, and to locations where phishing kits are being shared and discussed.”

Ivan Macalintal, senior research engineer for Trend Micro, is currently investigating the new wave of phishing kits, some of which his team had first seen appear earlier this year. “It was MarkMonitor that compiled and reported the huge list of currently in-the-wild phishing kits. We are currently working with MarkMonitor in the investigation of these kits and in the efforts to take down the drop email addresses -- where the phished or stolen info are sent,” Macalintal says. The kits can be downloaded from various sites, he says.

Trend Micro expects phishing activity to increase due to this unusual volume of these free phishing kits circulating and the fact that they make it simple for most anyone to set up a phishing site. And the more “professional” and wily phishers will profit most, with their secret backdoor programs in the kits funneling other phishers’ stolen booty back to them.

“Especially with the Mr. Brain kits -- the kits were really made in such a way that amateur phishers may use them with ease on hundreds of phishing sprees,” Macalintal says. “The more arduous task of setting up hundreds of phishing pages are left to the amateurs, while unknowingly in the remote background, Mr. Brain is the one enjoying the spoils of the pillage.”

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    Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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