Application security

Taxpayers hit by new phishing scam


American taxpayers have been receiving a new phishing email that claims to be notification of a refund from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Scammers are taking advantage of an apparent security configuration error on the real federal government website, which allows them to redirect visitors to a bogus website.

In an attempt to look more legitimate, the email tells users to cut-and-paste the link into their web browser rather than click directly on it. Although the link does use the genuine domain name of the government website, a mistake in the way the website has been set up bounces surfers to a fake site run by the phishers.

"This phish tells the user that the IRS owes them several hundred dollars and offers a web link from which they can allegedly claim the tax refund," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. "But the link in the email simply bounces the user off a government website onto a site owned by the criminals, who are ready and waiting to steal their credit card details, Social Security numbers and other personal information."

Cluley warned that this was more advanced than the typical phish, because the weblink initially takes unsuspecting users to the real tax benefit website. But the way the IRS website has been configured allows the phishers to bounce the unwary in their direction instead.

"The phishers didn't need to hack into or compromise the government website to do this, the website has simply had this vulnerability on it all along," continued Cluley. "This is a warning to every business and agency that runs a website to be very careful that it cannot be abused to bounce web surfers elsewhere."

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