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Phishing to hit x'mas shoppers

Holiday shoppers need to be extra wary of online attacks as they stock up on their Christmas stockings this season, warns security firm.

As consumer spending is expected to rise around festive seasons, online shoppers this year need to be particularly guarded against malware targeting online e-commerce transactions and auction sites.

According to Trend Micro, increasing numbers of consumers are visiting the Web for their holiday shopping. The security company said Thursday in a statement: "With today's busy lifestyle, more and more Singaporeans are turning to the Internet to make their Christmas purchases and book their vacations."

In light of the increased online activities, Trend Micro warns of a rise in malware, phishing Web sites and virus-infected e-cards attached to e-mail messages.

"On one popular Web site, Trend Micro has detected 38,000 phishing attempts in the last two years," the company said, referring to sites and e-mail messages that closely resemble Web pages of legitimate businesses, in an attempt to extract information from unsuspecting consumers.

Web threats have grown by over five-fold in the last two years, according to Trend Micro.

And the crooks seem to be getting bolder. Malicious hackers are increasingly using automated e-mail messages targeting users of online auction sites, stating that their accounts will be suspended unless they provide the necessary account information.

After victims fall prey to this con, an automated script provides hackers with full access to sensitive information, such as credit card details and billing addresses.

Ross Wilson, Trend Micro's Asia-Pacific managing director of consumer products and services, said in the statement: "As with most Web threats, the motive for these online shopping and auction attacks is money.

"Once the attacker gains access to a legitimate account, he can bid for items that may be purchased at the expense of the legitimate owner's account. The cyber criminal can also sell your identity to a third party for a fee," Wilson said.

Consumer confidence unaffected
Despite the potential risks, consumer spending--online or otherwise--could still be heading upward, as forecasts on consumer confidence remain positive.

According to a new study released Thursday by MasterCard, Asia-Pacific consumers expressed a higher level of consumer confidence compared to a year and a half ago.

"These sentiments prevailed in spite of volatility in financial markets across the world," stated the study, which surveyed some 5,411 consumers across 13 markets in the region. Conducted in October this year, the survey based respondents' outlook on five factors--employment, economy, regular income, stock market and quality of life--to gauge the level of consumer confidence

Vietnam, China, Hong Kong and Singapore led the rankings, with consumers feeling very confident of securing employment.

Taiwan ranked the lowest in the study, thanks to the country's pessimistic outlook in all five indicators.

Yuwa Hedrick-Wong, Asia-Pacific economic advisor at MasterCard Worldwide, said in a statement: "This latest consumer confidence reading of the region is broadly consistent with the short-term outlook of economic conditions of the key regional markets. It is not surprising to see the China and Vietnam continue to be strongly optimistic, whereas [Taiwan sits] at the opposite end of the spectrum."