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Internet fraudsters threaten Christmas e-tailers

The UK Internet payment service provider Protx last week became the latest Internet company to come under attack from unknown hackers, disrupting thousands of online retailers around the world.

In a bid to extort money by wrecking their businesses, hackers bombarded Protx’s servers with requests for information, a trick called denial of service that eventually paralyses sites because they cannot cope with the amount of data.

Milly Saunders, of City lawyer Philippsohn Crawfords Berwald said: “This means millions of people trying to make credit card payments on the Internet cannot do so. With Christmas approaching it is a real problem. People will get fed up and go elsewhere. The hackers offer to end their activity of the company pays up. We don’t know if any firm has yet.”

Industries conducting large volumes of transactions are clearly emerging as sitting targets for a cottage industry of digital extortionists.

In March 2004, a sustained campaign of DoS attacks was launched against Britain's top 20 gambling sites after extortion demands were met and rejected.

In July, following an extensive investigation by both Russian and British authorities and with the help of law enforcement agencies in Australia, the United States, Canada, and Estonia, a trio of men were eventually arrested on charges of running the blackmail operation.

But the arrests are just a drop in the ocean when it comes to the bigger picture of Internet fraud. Last week alone, four million online credit card payments were stopped as hackers jammed websites, according to fraud experts.

And in the run up to the busy Christmas retail period it is likely that these attacks will become more and more prevalent and high profile over the coming weeks.

Steven Philippsohn, also of Philippsohn Crawford Berwald, said: “Millions of pounds in online purchasing power may be lost because of the Internet criminal.” He added hackers did not have the ability to steal shoppers’ money – only to extort cash from the provider.

Sources: BBC Online, The Metro

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