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Online shopping, banking at risk from increased hacking
Question of the Day
The technology that makes online shopping and banking secure is under increasing assault by hackers, criminal gangs and spy agencies, threatening the $680 billion-a-year global e-commerce market.
Security specialists warn that consumers soon may no longer be able to trust the padlock icon in browsers, known as the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), that signals a secure Internet connection, meaning they would no longer be able to shop or bank online with confidence.
SSL relies on special electronic certificates issued to a secure website, but each kind of Web browser validates certificates in a different way, according to security specialist Mary Landesman of the technology firm Cisco Systems.
“The average user has no good way of verifying that the server certificate really is valid and thus that the site is really valid,” said Ms. Landesman.
Earlier this year, a pro-Iranian hacker broke into the computer systems of at least two security companies, among the thousands worldwide that issue SSL certificates.
After taking control of the companies’ computers, the hacker issued fraudulent certificates for dozens of websites, including Google, Yahoo, AOL, Facebook, Skype and the public home pages of the CIA, MI6 and Mossad.
Before the hack came to light last month and the false certificates were revoked, the fakes could have been used to impersonate those websites. The victims’ computers would have appeared to have been in secure, encrypted sessions with their email or Web service provider.
In fact, the victims’ computers would have been in contact with a fake site, where hackers could eavesdrop on communications and steal log-in information and passwords.
The hacker, using the alias “Comodohacker,” made several public Internet postings in which he provided evidence he was behind the hacks, said Ronald Prins, owner of Foxit, a security software company that investigated the breach.
“He was very clever,” Mr. Prins said of Comodohacker. “He did something that only the person with the key the hacker stole could do. That proves it was him, or someone he gave the key to.”
SSL is the backbone of e-commerce — the guarantee that a Web user’s login and password, and credit card and bank account details are safe during Internet shopping or banking. And SSL is vital to privacy, keeping users’ email and social media accounts secure.
“What is good is that the security community is aware of the threat. They know it could jeopardize e-commerce and they won’t let that happen,” said security specialist Dave Jevans of Iron Key, an online data security firm.
Online shopping is increasing annually and accounted for $145.2 billion in retail sales in 2007, about 4 percent of the $3.6 trillion retail sale total for that year, according to the Census Bureau.
In addition, a 2011 survey conducted for the American Banking Association found that 62 percent of bank customers prefer to perform transactions via the Internet.
According to the FBI Computer Crime Survey, more than 5,000 computer security incidents were reported in 2005 and most of those intrusions originated in the U.S., China, Nigeria, Korea, Germany, Russia and Romania.
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