China warns of Skype phishing, shuts offending domain

The rare warning comes as authorities and companies work to stamp out phishing

China's cyberthreat response group Monday warned local Skype users about phishing scams being carried out through the chat program, in a show of ongoing efforts to counter phishing in the country.

Many Skype users in China have recently received fake messages saying they had won a prize and directing them to a look-alike version of the program's Web site to claim it, said the National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team (CERT) on its Web site. The group's rare notice about a specific phishing scam warned users not to lose sensitive data to such sites and said the group had worked with a domain registrar to close an offending domain.

Phishing has been a major problem in China but the most targeted local sites have included banks and an online auction site that is similar to eBay, said Miao Deyu, a spokesman for Chinese antivirus software maker Antiy Labs. China's huge number of Internet users gives criminals a much larger pool of people to target and more catches even if their success rate is low, said Miao.

China officially had 338 million Internet users at the end of June.

Skype is still an attractive target for phishing since many user accounts have payment information linked to them, said Miao. The Chinese version of the program, called Tom-Skype since it is offered through local Internet company Tom Online, reportedly had 69 million registered users in mid-2008. That version of the program filters some politically sensitive words sent during chats and last year was found by researchers to be recording messages, likely due to government demands.

Chinese companies and government organizations last year formed an antiphishing group that may have helped reduce phishing incidents. The group has identified and helped close at least 8,000 phishing sites, according to local media and Miao. In the past few months phishing incidents in China have stayed flat after an earlier spike, according to Antiy.

China's CERT received just 1,200 reports of phishing last yea, and it "resolved" just 320 of them, it said in an earlier report. Among the incidents reported to the group, Yahoo, eBay and banks like Wachovia and HSBC were the most commonly mimicked Web sites, a sign that many phishing sites hosted in China target Internet users abroad.

Western experts have said that China-hosted domains known to be malicious often remain up and have called for quicker action by local registrars and authorities to shut them down.

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