8/14/2009
08:05 AM
Gadi Evron
Gadi Evron
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Reclaiming The Email Channel

Financial institutions and ecommerce sites use email as a marketing platform, training users to trust email -- essentially blazing a trail for the phishers.

Financial institutions and ecommerce sites use email as a marketing platform, training users to trust email -- essentially blazing a trail for the phishers.That seems counterproductive, but it's more about organizational placement. Businesses worldwide save quad-gazillions of dollars by using email for communication with clients. Is the loss from phishing and other scams high enough to justify losing this advantage?

Maybe. Large banks lose hundreds of millions of dollars annually from phishing Trojan horse attacks alone. (In some countries, the loss is the user's rather than the bank's, in which case these are a different type of loss.)

But loss is not as relevant as organizational placement in the fight to end such user indoctrination. The department that supports marketing via email is, indeed, the marketing department. The security group, however, is at the bottom of the food chain and normally seen as a business detractor.

And, meanwhile, users get "trained" that financial communication comes in email. Is it any wonder that more and more people fall for phishing scams?

PayPal is a famous example. Bank of America, Amazon, and many other ecommerce companies and financial institutions do the very same. I have no bone to pick with PayPal, but it provides an example of the problem here. At a 2007 CSI conference, PayPal CISO Michael Barrett gave a keynote where he spoke about threats, such as phishing. His talk was good, and I was impressed.

But I realized the main effect on combating scams that PayPal's measures achieve is lulling users into a false sense of security. I went to the mic and asked a question:

How do financial institutions expect to fight phishing when they continually train users to answer them in email?" I added: "What does PayPal do to change that, and, perhaps, as you spoke of leadership, PayPal can lead the market by changing the way it communicates with clients?"

His answer stays with me to this day, during especially funny TV sitcom moments: "We intend to reclaim the email channel."

While I have no realistic expectation that financial institutions will stop using email in client communication (nor should they), their continued use of email without verification via another communication channel is disturbing at best. The email channel is lost as a secure global communication system.

Isn't it time ecommerce security left the 1990s? Even if "reclaiming the email channel" was not an inane proposition, a better approach would be for these organization to act responsibly and stop looking at security as something you only need tell people you have. Much like industries in the physical world can't pollute (much), so should these corporations be held to certain standards when it comes to the Internet and the long-term damage they cause.

Follow Gadi Evron on Twitter: http://twitter.com/gadievron

Gadi Evron is an independent security strategist based in Israel. Special to Dark Reading. Gadi is CEO and founder of Cymmetria, a cyber deception startup and chairman of the Israeli CERT. Previously, he was vice president of cybersecurity strategy for Kaspersky Lab and led PwC's Cyber Security Center of Excellence, located in Israel. He is widely recognized for ... View Full Bio

 

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