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Origins of the Word "Phishing"

The word "phishing" comes from the analogy that Internet scammers are using email lures to "fish" for passwords and financial data from the sea of Internet users. The term was coined in the 1996 timeframe by hackers who were stealing America On-Line accounts by scamming passwords from unsuspecting AOL users. The first mention on the Internet of phishing is on the alt.2600 hacker newsgroup in January 1996, however the term may have been used even earlier in the printed edition of the hacker newsletter "2600".

"Ph" is a common hacker replacement for "f", and is a nod to the original form of hacking, known as "phreaking". Phreaking was coined by the first hacker, John Draper (aka. "Captain Crunch"). John invented "hacking" by creating the infamous Blue Box, a device that he used to hack telephone systems in the early 1970s.

This first form of hacking was known as "Phone Phreaking". The blue box emitted tones that allowed a user to control the phone switches, thereby making long distance calls for free, or billing calls to someone else's phone number, etc. This is in fact the origin of a lot of the "ph" spelling in many hacker pseudonyms and hacker organizations.

By 1996, hacked accounts were called "phish", and by 1997 phish were actually being traded between hackers as a form of currency. People would routinely trade 10 working AOL phish for a piece of hacking software that they needed.

Over the years, phishing attacks grew from simply stealing AOL dialup accounts into a more sinister criminal enterprise. Phishing attacks now target users of online banking, payment services such as PayPal, and online e-commerce sites. Phishing attacks are growing quickly in number and sophistication. In fact, since August 2003, most major banks in the USA, the UK and Australia have been hit with phishing attacks.


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