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Netcraft goes fishing for phishers

New plug-in software for browsers aims to help people avoid becoming victims of online fraud.

Netcraft has released an Internet Explorer plug-in that could help people avoid becoming victims of online fraud.

The Internet security company heralded the plug-in toolbar, which displays information about the Web sites a surfer is visiting, as a strong weapon against phishing attacks.

"The Netcraft Toolbar provides you with constantly updated information about the sites you visit as well as blocking dangerous sites," the company, best known for providing statistics on what software Web sites are running, stated in a posting. "This information will help you make an informed choice about the integrity of those sites."

The toolbar displays information about the popularity of a site, the country in which the site is hosted and the Internet address of the site. It also indicates whether other toolbar users have flagged the site as a possible phishing scam, which uses fake Web sites that look like they belong to a trusted provider, such as a bank, to fool people into handing over sensitive personal information.

The effectiveness of the toolbar will largely depend on how widely the software is adopted, Netcraft Director Mike Prettejohn said.

"If the big banks go for branded versions to give to their customers, then (it will be) very effective," he said. "It's only been public for two days, and there is already an effective community of people blocking phishing sites."

The software is available as a plug-in for Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser and can be downloaded from Netcraft. A version of the program that runs on the Firefox browser from the Mozilla Foundation is also under development, the company said.