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Do You Deal With Internet Fraud

 by: Articsoft

Summary

Internet fraud should be addressed as two specific issues: fraud that uses Internet technology as an integral part of the fraud; fraud that is already taking place by other means and the Internet is merely another method of delivery.

Methods exist that stop fraudsters misusing the technology, which can be rapidly implemented, but factors such as industry acceptance and concerns over potential liability if previous security claims could be claimed to be inaccurate will delay introduction. Much effort is spent promoting logos and confusing self-regulation, and trying to catch fraudsters, whilst the adoption of formal standards and accreditation for security (such as ISO 17799) are only starting to take place.

New Internet environment crimes may exist, such as defrauding machines or causing business harm by denial of service or virus attacks, and these will require social and legal steps to address them. However, the Internet has provided the fraudster with access to a significantly bigger market than ever before and effort will be required to create an environment where fraud is resisted by design rather than by insurance.

Introduction

Internet fraud is said to be big business. But what is it, and does using the Internet create the fraud, or is the Internet just a different way of delivering 'traditional' fraud.

Fraud is essentially persuading someone of something with intent to deceive, perhaps with criminal intent. The deceit may be to persuade you to part with money, goods, services, rights or information.

For the purposes of this paper we are not going to examine methods of fraud, but look at the general techniques, how they are applied, and how, if at all, the Internet can be used to make those techniques easier for the criminal to use either to carry out a fraud or to escape detection.

General techniques of fraud

The key to fraud is to persuade you that something is real, when in fact it is not. Once you accept that the fake is real then the fraud can take place - whatever it is. Whether you are buying the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco (both are real and have been seen by millions of people - and have been regularly 'sold') the essence is to believe the proposal that is put to you.

Other types of fraud essentially persuade you to do something in the (wrong) belief that it should be done, or to accept something in settlement that proves to be without the value you were led to believe. But they all come back to the same thing - the fraudster has to persuade you that his vision of the world is the correct one.

How do we normally counter fraud

In ordinary life there are many things set up to help avoid fraud. Mostly we rely upon physical things - buildings (such as banks) help to prove to us that we are dealing with something real - talking to people on the telephone on a number that is in a directory helps us believe that they are who we expect. At a more sophisticated level, businesses have to be registered and the directors names and addresses made public. There are also agencies with a duty to respond to complaints over the trading practices of businesses.

How does the Internet map to the real world

The Internet is rather different. The biggest problem for the Internet user is that there is no physical reference to use. You can't go to a physical bookshop at www.amazon.com. You have to believe what the computer tells you, and that is the start of the problems.

We have many practical examples where people get the physical world wrong - they put their bank cards into fake ATMs and enter their PINs, they tell their friends and children their passwords (sometimes in public), they sign up to 'get rich quick' deals with people they don't know - so how well are we set up to handle the Internet world, where web sites are just exactly as good as their designer intended?

The practical answer is just barely. The Internet is marketed as an anonymous zone. Information is free and users are anonymous. Now some of those features are desirable. When you go into a store it is the store that has to tell you who they are. If you pay with cash they will never know who you are and none of your legal rights are affected. They give you a receipt and you can check any of the details and get corrections made on the spot. If you want credit you have to tell them more about you, but not necessarily very much.

The Internet, by comparison, is anonymous whether you are the seller or the customer. For the seller it is as anonymous as they want to make it. This, of course, might be thought of as attractive to a fraudster.

Avoiding obvious frauds on the Internet

Some potential sources of fraud - misrepresenting a business as that of someone else - are being slowly dealt with. Domain name registration has almost reached the point where there is some certainty that www.harrods.com is the web version of a famous department store in Knightsbridge, London. But it is still very far from being fully resolved. It is still possible to register www.harrodds.com, www.harrodss.com. You can copy the real thing without too much difficulty, and with a bit of luck and some spelling mistakes a fraudster can still be in business.

But this type of fraud could be avoided by legislating to bring web site name registration into line with company registration rules, where similar names and "passing off " are already dealt with. The methods for obtaining web site names that are primarily for 'trade' could also be addressed to ensure that they can only be obtained by registered businesses, and that the link between the domain name and the registered business is a matter of public record.

Some less obvious frauds

The Internet uses a technology called TCP/IP in order to send information between one point on the Internet and another. Unfortunately it was not designed to be secure, it was designed to be resilient. As a result it is possible to read information that travels around the Internet, and also to alter it. Therefore, it is possible both to read information that is not protected and copy information that has been protected using cryptography, (a technique that makes information unreadable to the unauthorized) and to change the unprotected information without being detected.

The effect of this is to create a situation where fraud can be carried out even when a genuine transaction is taking place. Fraud might include putting other recipient's names on the distribution list to make you believe they are also involved or in agreement with what is going on. (This can happen in the physical world processing a credit card transaction multiple times on paper and forging the signature from the valid bill.)

The fraud is subtle because it is impossible for either party to detect. It is effective because the fraudster may have gathered information that allows them to completely impersonate both parties in the future.

Solutions for technical problems

These frauds require a manipulation of the Internet technologies, and so can be resisted by technology. However, the technology being marketed to solve this problem Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), in the way in which it is usually implemented, has fundamental weaknesses, and has been shown to be capable of being defrauded. Many other schemes, based upon codes of practice and logos shown on web sites, although worthy in themselves, are equally capable of being defrauded. It seems strange that some advertising appears to suggest encryption technology using a 40 bit algorithm is perfectly secure for commerce, whilst also saying that 128 bit algorithms are essential.

Alternative technologies such as those from ArticSoft are being delivered now that allow end


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