Phishing Attacks Blamed on 'Avalanche'

A new report blames a single Eastern European gang for about two-thirds of all phishing attacks conducted in the second half of 2009.

The phishing group -- named Avalanche by security researchers because of the large quantity of "crimeware" attacks it unleashes -- was behind more than 84,000 of the nearly 127,000 phishing attacks tracked by the Anti-Phishing Working Group, an organization of security companies and law enforcement officials that analyzes phishing activity and publishes its findings in semiannual reports.

Avalanche used slick automated tools to crank out phishing attacks quickly for purposes of identity theft. The gang set up fake Web sites and then spammed potential victims with e-mail messages designed to trick them into typing in their usernames and passwords.

The group targeted about 40 institutions, including Yahoo Inc., Google Inc. and major U.S. and U.K. banks, said Greg Aaron, one of the authors of the report.

Avalanche first popped up in late 2008, not long after Rock Phish, the previous top phishing threat, dropped off the scene. Some security experts believe that Avalanche is simply using the next generation of phishing tools designed by Rock Phish's creators.

By October of last year, Avalanche was such a big problem that security companies and corporate victims began sharing previously private information about the attacks to develop ways of fighting back.

In November, several unnamed security companies got together and knocked out Avalanche's infrastructure for about a week, Aaron said. In the months since that takedown, Avalanche attacks have tapered off, he said.

Aaron noted that he doesn't know how long this quiet period will last, however. "We don't know if they're going to fade away or if they're going to change what they're doing somehow and ramp back up again."

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that first ran on

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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