Pharming a Scary Harvest
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Pharming has nothing to do with either agriculture or medicine. With at least two important stories focused on pharming hitting the news and being picked up by various media outlets in February, pharming has become the latest Internet threat. This article will cover those stories, explain what pharming is, and touch on how you can protect yourself online.
The word "pharming" is a play on the words farming and phishing. As with phishing, a malicious hacker is engaging in a bit of social engineering to try to convince victims to part with their user names and passwords to various web sites. A hacker with that kind of information for financially-related web sites (i.e. credit card sites, online banking sites, stock trading sites, and so on) can commit identity theft and wreak all sorts of havoc on a victim's finances.
Usually phishing involves sending the victim an email that purports to be coming from one of the businesses with which the victim has an account. It pressures them into visiting the company's web site to log in and update their information. The link included in the email takes the victim to a bogus web site controlled by the hacker but designed to look nearly identical to the company's actual web site, right down to a similar-looking URL.
Pharming works a bit differently. Rather than simply use a link in an email that takes the user to a bogus site, pharming actively redirects traffic "either by changing the hosts file on a victim's computer or by exploitation of a vulnerability in DNS server software," according to Wikipedia. In other words, if your system has been hacked, even if you put in the correct URL yourself, you will be redirected to the bogus site.
You can protect yourself against that to some extent by using the secure version of the URL (https:// rather than http://); it will also help if you do not disregard warnings about invalid server certificates. Unfortunately, antivirus software and spyware removal software will not help you against pharming attacks, since they are aimed at areas of your system that this software typically doesn't scan.
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