Banks and payment services are in a constant fight to detect account fraud, employing sophisticated ways to detect abnormal activities. One of those ways is "fingerprinting" a Web browser, or analyzing its relatively unique software stamp.
Web browsers relay a variety of data to websites, including a computer's OS, its time zone, language preference and version numbers for software plugins. When those parameters change, along with others such as an IP address, it may mean an account is being fraudulently accessed.
To prevent being locked out of an account, fraudsters can use a variety of methods to appear legitimate when browsing by using virtual machines and special browser plugins. But an enterprising developer has developed a software package that makes spoofing a browser fingerprint much easier.
Called FraudFox VM, the software is a special version of Windows with a heavily modified version of the Firefox browser that runs on VMware's Workstation for Windows or VMware Fusion on OSX. It's for sale on Evolution, the successor to the Silk Road online contraband market, for 1.8 bitcoins, which is about $390.
It has been under development for a number of weeks by an Evolution vendor going by the nickname "hugochavez," whose avatar is a photo of the former Venezuelan president. The developer appear to have a good reputation, according to comments on an Evolution forum.
What FraudFox aims to do is make it faster and easier to change a browser's fingerprint to one that matches that of the victim whose account they're going to exploit, or simply mix up their own digital crumbs when browsing. It's not a new tool per se, and more advanced cybercriminals may already know the techniques, but FraudFox consolidates the functions.
FraudFox's effectiveness may depend on what service it is used against. Browser fingerprinting is just one metric used to detect fraudsters, said Ken Westin, senior technical marketing manager and security analyst with computer security company Tripwire, via email.
It's unclear how FraudFox would deal with detection of a person's IP address, as security systems also watch for use of proxy services such as Tor. "It will be interesting to see the tool when it is available and to test against existing fraud detection tools," he wrote.
Nearly every company that does sensitive online transactions uses browser fingerprinting, said Avivah Litan, a vice president and payments security analyst with Gartner. But browser fingerprinting has been losing effectiveness because of the use of techniques wrapped into tools such as FraudFox, she said.
"We always tell our clients they can't completely rely on it, especially if it's the only measure they use," Litan said via email. "But now, device/browser fingerprinting could be beginning to face its death sentence."
FraudFox's control panel has drop-down boxes to select an OS version, whether that OS is 32- or 64-bit, the language, time zone and screen resolution. Another menu allows the selection of the fonts installed, another metric that can be tracked. A browser can be selected, as well as its version number and what version of Adobe System's Flash plugin is running.
The variety of options and the speed at which an attacker can change their fingerprint means that it likely will "be very useful for e-commerce and online banking fraud specifically," said Andrew Komarov, CEO of IntelCrawler, a Los Angeles-based security company.
A forthcoming feature for FraudFox will be a "profile generator script." That script is designed for use with a phishing page. If a victim can be lured to the page, the script will automatically collect the person's browser fingerprint. Those details are wrapped into a ".fox" file, which can then be used to quickly configure FraudFox.
One trial user of FraudFox who claims to have tested it praised it. The reviewer wrote that FraudFox helped increase the percentage of cards he was able to authorize through payment processors using Verified by Visa and MasterCard SecureCode, two security mechanisms used for online card-not-present transactions.
"I am very happy with this product and I am willing to purchase this real soon," wrote the person, nicknamed "Coin."
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