The head of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has stopped banking online after nearly falling for a phishing attempt.
FBI Director Robert Mueller said he recently came “just a few clicks away from falling into a classic Internet phishing scam” after receiving an e-mail that appeared to be from his bank.
“It looked pretty legitimate,” Mueller said Wednesday in a speech at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club. “They had mimicked the e-mails that the bank would ordinarily send out to its customers; they’d mimicked them very well.”
In phishing scams, criminals send spam e-mails to their victims, hoping to trick them into entering sensitive information such as usernames and passwords at fake Web sites.
Though he stopped before handing over any sensitive information, the incident put an end to Mueller’s online banking.
“After changing our passwords, I tried to pass the incident off to my wife … as a teachable moment,” he said. “To which she deftly replied, ‘Well, it is not my teachable moment. However, it is our money. No more Internet banking for you.”
Mueller said he considers online banking “very safe” but that “just in my household, we don’t use it.”
Phishing has evolved into a big problem, not just for banks, but for online retailers and even providers of consumer Web applications such as Facebook and Yahoo.
In June — the latest month for which figures are available — the Anti-Phishing Working Group counted nearly 50,000 active phishing Web sites, the second-highest number it has ever recorded.
Late last week, criminals posted tens of thousands of passwords belonging to Microsoft Live Hotmail, Gmail, and Yahoo accounts online. They are all thought to have been stolen via phishing.
Mueller’s FBI has had some success in going after phishers. On Wednesday it announced it had arrested 33 people in the U.S. in connection with an international phishing operation. Egyptian authorities have charged 47 in connection with the same scam.
“They targeted American financial institutions and also approximately 5,000 American citizens here in the United States,” Mueller said. Dubbed Operation Phish Phry, “it is the largest international phishing case ever conducted,” he added.
“Far too little attention has been paid to cyber threats and their consequences,” Mueller said. “Intruders are reaching into our networks every day looking for valuable information. Unfortunately they’re finding it. “