Microsoft to fight phishers in Europe

Will sue fraudsters who spoof MSN and other Web properties, expanding a legal campaign already under way in the U.S.

Microsoft is taking phishers to court in Europe, after launching a similar legal campaign in the United States.

The operators of fraudulent Web sites that claim to be Microsoft sites, such as MSN or Hotmail, will be pursued by the company for copyright infringement, the software giant announced at a discussion panel event Monday in Brussels.

Microsoft executives said the Redmond, Wash.-based company expects to file 53 cases against phishing attackers by the end of March, rising to more than 100 by June.

"Phishing is a crime. It undermines consumers' trust in the Internet and is an impediment to European policymakers' and industries' efforts to boost citizens' use of innovative and valuable Internet services," Neil Holloway, president of Microsoft for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said at the discussion. The panel was hosted by the European Internet Services Providers Association and co-sponsored by Interpol.

In phishing scams, fraudsters try to steal personal data such as passwords and credit card numbers. Typically, they send out e-mails luring people to Web sites spoofed to look like they belong to a trusted provider such as a bank. A record 7,197 phishing Web sites were spotted in December, according to the Anti-Phishing Working Group.

This latest campaign continues Microsoft's Global Phishing Enforcement Initiative (GPEI), a program dedicated to pooling private sector and government resources to prosecute cybercriminals and to protect consumers. The company has helped take down more than 4,744 phishing sites worldwide, it said Monday. It collaborated with police forces to shut down an operation in Bulgaria that played off MSN properties.

Last spring, Microsoft filed more than 117 lawsuits against alleged phishers in U.S. courts. The 53 copyright-infringement suits, which are scheduled to proceed by the end of March 2006, were filed through GPEI. They target suspects in Turkey, France, Spain, Morocco, the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Egypt and Sweden, Microsoft said.

Bernard Otupal, a crime intelligence officer from Interpol's Financial and High-Tech Crime Unit, emphasized the benefit of working with Microsoft to law enforcement officials. He said the partnership gave them direct access to the latest .

"Law enforcement can't deal with the issue alone. It's time to make links between Internet service providers, hardware and software companies and law enforcement," Otupal said at the panel discussion.

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK contributed to this report from Brussels.

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