[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 22-Jul-2008
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Contact: Nicole Casal Moore
ncmoore@umich.edu
734-647-1838
University of Michigan

Security flaws in online banking sites found to be widespread

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---More than 75 percent of the bank Web sites surveyed in a University of Michigan study had at least one design flaw that could make customers vulnerable to cyber thieves after their money or even their identity.

Atul Prakash, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and doctoral students Laura Falk and Kevin Borders examined the Web sites of 214 financial institutions in 2006. They will present the findings for the first time at the Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security meeting at Carnegie Mellon University July 25.

These design flaws aren't bugs that can be fixed with a patch. They stem from the flow and the layout of these Web sites, according to the study. The flaws include placing log-in boxes and contact information on insecure web pages as well as failing to keep users on the site they initially visited. Prakash said some banks may have taken steps to resolve these problems since this data was gathered, but overall he still sees much need for improvement.

"To our surprise, design flaws that could compromise security were widespread and included some of the largest banks in the country," Prakash said. "Our focus was on users who try to be careful, but unfortunately some bank sites make it hard for customers to make the right security decisions when doing online banking."

The flaws leave cracks in security that hackers could exploit to gain access to private information and accounts. The FDIC says computer intrusion, while relatively rare compared with financial crimes like mortgage fraud and check fraud, is a growing problem for banks and their customers.

A recent FDIC Technology Incident Report, compiled from suspicious activity reports banks file quarterly, lists 536 cases of computer intrusion, with an average loss per incident of $30,000. That adds up to a nearly $16-million loss in the second quarter of 2007. Computer intrusions increased by 150 percent between the first quarter of 2007 and the second. In 80 percent of the cases, the source of the intrusion is unknown but it occurred during online banking, the report states.

The design flaws Prakash and his team looked for are:

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Prakash initiated this study after noticing flaws on his own financial institutions' Web sites. The paper is "Analyzing Web sites for user-visible security design flaws." Falk and Borders are students in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

For more information on Prakash, visit: http://www.eecs.umich.edu/~aprakash/

Michigan Engineering:

The University of Michigan College of Engineering is ranked among the top engineering schools in the country. At more than $130 million annually, its engineering research budget is one of largest of any public university. Michigan Engineering is home to 11 academic departments and a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center. The college plays a leading role in the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute and hosts the world class Lurie Nanofabrication Facility. Michigan Engineering's premier scholarship, international scale and multidisciplinary scope combine to create The Michigan Difference. Find out more at http://www.engin.umich.edu/.



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