Malware

SolutionBase: Stop phishing attacks with Microsoft Phishing Filter

As if viruses and spyware weren't enough, a new security challenge IT professionals face is phishing. Microsoft has created a filter for Internet Explorer than can help prevent phishing attacks. Here's how it works.

In the past year, there has been a massive increase in the amount of spam or unwanted email appearing in Inboxes. Anti-spam software is the quick and easy way of solving this problem. However, there is another, more serious threat known as on the horizon known as Phishing scams. A typical Phishing scam will entice you into visiting a phony Web site to gather personal information about you, such as a credit card number. The individuals behind the scam can then use your personal information for criminal use. Essentially, it is a form of identity theft.

What is the Microsoft Phishing Filter

Microsoft has recognized the threat of Phishing scams and in response to the threat, has introduced a free tool called the Microsoft Phishing Filter. It provides you with real-time protection against phony Web sites when you are on the Internet using two key features:

  • Built-in Filter - This component scans the Web sites as you visit them to identify any characteristics commonly associated with Phishing scams.
  • Online Service - This component provides information about Web sites that have been reported as being Phishing scams. This information is updated on the hour.

Author's Note

In this article, I will outline the steps you need to complete to install and use the Microsoft Phishing Filter to protect yourself against identity theft. This article assumes your computer is running Microsoft Windows XP.

System requirements

Before you install the Microsoft Phishing Filter, you should be aware of the system requirements. It is only supported for use on Windows XP (Home or Professional Editions) with Service Pack 2.

There are no specific hardware requirements, other than your system must meet the minimum hardware requirements for Windows XP and have a connection to the Internet. Finally, you must install the MSN Search Toolbar before installing the Microsoft Phishing Filter add-in.

Installing the Microsoft Phishing Filter

Assuming you have installed service pack 2 for Windows XP, you can begin the installation process for the Microsoft Phishing Filter. Your first step will be to download and install the MSN Search Toolbar as outlined below.

  1. Open Internet Explorer and go to http://toolbar.msn.com/.
  2. Click Download Toolbar Now - Free.
  3. From the File Download - Security Warning window, click Run.
  4. When the Security Warning window appears, click Run to start the installation.
  5. Click Next. If any programs are open, you will be prompted to close them.
  6. Review the privacy statement and click I agree to the terms of use and the privacy statement. Click Next.
  7. From the Customize MSN Search Toolbar, click the box beside Use the default settings and close this wizard.
  8. Click Finish.
  9. Click OK after reviewing the list of default settings.

Figure A

Installing the MSN Search Toolbar

You will immediately notice several changes, one of which is the MSN Deskbar located beside the system tray. This allows you to quickly and easily search the Web or your computer.

The next step is to download and install the Microsoft Phishing Filter which is an add-in for the MSN Search Toolbar. You can install the add-in by completing the steps described below.

1.      Open Internet Explorer and go to the Toolbar Website.

2.      From the list of add-ins, locate the Microsoft Phishing Filter Add-in for MSN Search Toolbar. Click Download. You'll see a screen like Figure B appear.

Figure B

Downloading the Microsoft Phishing Filter

3.      From the File Download - Security Warning dialog box, click Run.

4.      Click Run when the Internet Explorer - Security Warning dialog box appears.

5.      Click Next.

6.      Review the use and privacy statement. Click I agree to the terms of use and privacy statement. Click Next.

7.      Select whether or not to participate in the customer improvement program. Click Install. Be sure to close any instances of Internet Explorer before proceeding.

8.      Click Finish.

The Phishing Filter button will now be available on the MSN Search Toolbar within Internet Explorer as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

The Phishing Filter button is available on the MSN Search Toolbar

How the Phishing Filter works

The Phishing Filter add-in works in the background while you are surfing the Internet. It uses three different modes:

  • Neutral
  • Block
  • Warn

Neutral mode simply indicates that the Phishing Filter is running on your computer. This is indicated by a blue shield on the Phishing Filter button. When the Phishing Filter is turned off, the button will no longer appear on the MSN Search Toolbar.

As already mentioned, the online service provides a list of Web sites that have been identified as phishing scams. Any Web sites you open that appear on this list will be blocked and you will be prevented from entering any personal information. You can easily tell if a site has been blocked because Internet Explorer will display a red bar directly above the Web page stating "This website has been blocked for your safety".

The add-in also provide real-time scanning, looking for Web sites that are suspicious but not on the list of known phishing sites. If a suspicious site is found, Internet Explorer will warn you by displaying a yellow warning bar directly above the Web page. In such cases, you can close your browser or ignore the warning.

Using the Phishing Filter

The Phishing Filter provides you with four options that are available by clicking the Phishing Filter button within Internet Explorer. The four options include:

  • Report this Website
  • Check for Updates
  • Change Phishing Filter Options
  • Learn More about Phishing Filter

If you visit a Web site and discover that it is suspicious, you can click the Phishing Filter button and select the Report This Website option. The Phishing Filter Feedback Web page will appear as seen in Figure D. Click the I Have Reason To Believe That This URL Is A Phishing Site option and click Submit.

Figure D

Reporting a suspicious Web site

As the name implies, the Check For Updates option allows you to verify that Microsoft has not released any updates for the add-in. If you have questions about any of the features included with the add-in, select Learn More About Phishing Filter.

Finally, if you select Change Phishing Filter Options from the list, the MSN Toolbar Options window will appear as shown in Figure E. By removing the check beside the Turn On Microsoft Phishing Filter Add-in, the filter will be turned off and will no longer provide protection. You can also check for updates and uninstall the add-in, using the buttons available at the bottom of the window.

Figure E

Configuring MSN Search Toolbar Options

That's all there is to it

If you want to protect yourself against identity theft when browsing the Internet then you should install the Microsoft Phishing Filter Add-in. Installing add-in is not difficult as long as you complete the required pre-installation tasks. As the add-in runs in the background, it will provide real-time scanning of any Web sites you visit to ensure they do not contain any characteristics of a phishing scam.

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