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Stupid ‘Ph’ Neologisms Considered Harmful

Words: ‘Pharming’. I recently came across this line in a discussion document:

‘Wait, isn’t this exactly the kind of attack pharmers mount?’

I was under the impression that ‘pharming’ was a transgenics term: ‘In pharming, … genetically modified (transgenic) animals are
mostly used to make human proteins that have medicinal value. The protein encoded by the transgene is secreted into the animal’s milk, eggs or blood, and then collected and purified. Livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, rabbits and pigs have already been modified in this way to produce several useful proteins and drugs.’

Obviously this wasn’t what was being referred to. So I got googling. It appears the sales and marketing community of various security/filtering/etc. companies, have been getting all het up about various phishing-related dangers.

The earliest article I could find was this — GCN: Is a new ID theft scam in the wings? (2005-01-14):

”Pharming is a next-generation phishing attack,’ said Scott Chasin, CTO of MX Logic. ‘Pharming is a malicious Web redirect,’ in which a person trying to reach a legitimate commercial site is sent to the phony site without his knowledge. ‘We don’t have any hard evidence that pharming is happening yet,’ Chasin said. ‘What we do know is that all the ingredients to make it happen are in place.’

Oooh scary! The article is short on technical detail (but long on scary), but I think he’s talking about DNS cache poisoning, whereby an attacker implants incorrect data in the victim’s DNS cache, to cause them to visit the wrong IP address when they resolve a name. This Wired article (2005-03-14) seems to confirm this.

But wait! Another meaning is offered by Green Armor Solutions, who use the term to talk about the Panix and Hushmail domain hijacks, where an attacker social-engineered domain transfers from their registrars. There’s no date on the page, but it appears to be post-March 2005.

Finally, yet another meaning is offered in this article at CSO Online: How Can We Stop Phishing and Pharming Scams? (May 2005): ‘The Computing Technology Industry Association has reported that pharming occurrences are up for the third straight year.’ What?! Call Scott Chasin!

Steady on — it appears that the ‘pharming’ CSO Online is talking about, has devolved to the stage where it’s simply a pop-up window that attempts to emulate a legit site’s input — no DNS trickery involved. (This trick has, indeed, been used in phish for years.)

So right there we have three different meanings for ‘pharming’, or four if you count the biotech one.

It may be impossible to get the marketeers to stop referring to ‘pharming’. But please, if you’re a techie, don’t use that term, it’s lack of clarity renders it useless. Anyway, the biotech people were there first, by several years…

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