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Typosquatting

Typosquatting, also called URL hijacking, is a form of cybersquatting - a questionable technique used by a cybersquatter to attract website traffic by redirecting common typos of popular search terms or major websites to their own sites. It is possibly brandjacking which relies on mistakes such as typographical errors made by Internet users when inputting a website address into a web browser. The term is derived from "squatting", which is the act of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied space or building that the squatter does not own, rent, or otherwise have permission to use. Should a user accidentally enter an incorrect website address, they may be led to an alternative website owned by a cybersquatter.

The typosquatter's URL will usually be one of four kinds, all similar to the victim site address:
(In the following, the intended website is "example.com")
  1. A common misspelling, or foreign language spelling, of the intended site: exemple.com
  2. A misspelling based on typing errors: xample.com or examlpe.com
  3. A differently phrased domain name: examples.com
  4. A different top-level domain: example.org

Once in the typosquatter's site, the user may also be tricked into thinking that they are in fact in the real site; through the use of copied or similar logos, website layouts or content. There are several different reasons for typosquatters buying a typo domain:



  1. In order to try and sell the typo domain back to the brand owner
  2. To "park" the typo domain and make pay-per-click revenues from direct navigation miss-spells of the intended domain
  3. To redirect the typo-traffic to a competitor
  4. To redirect the typo-traffic back to the brand itself, but through an affiliate link, thus earning commissions from the brand owner's affiliate program. This "typo domain affiliate" is one of the most financially damaging schemes as it siphons profits from the legitimate brand for traffic/customers that the brand would have gotten anyway had the typo domain not existed.
  5. As a phishing scheme to mimic the brand's site, while intercepting passwords which the visitor enters unsuspectingly
  6. To install drive-by malware or revenue generating adware onto the visitors' devices
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Examples

Tiny typos could lead to big problems when you're online. You could make your computer vulnerable to a virus, a scam, or identity theft. It's all because of a security issue called typosquatting which has reached unprecedented levels of criminals trying to take advantage of the growing popularity of online shopping and social media.

Many companies have garnered reputations for ruthlessly chasing down typosquatted names, including Verizon, Lufthansa, and Lego. Lego, for example, has spent roughly $500,000 USD on taking 309 cases through UDRP proceedings.

Celebrities have also frequently pursued their domain names, from singers to star athletes. Prominent examples include Basketball player Dirk Nowitzki's UDRP of DirkSwish.com and actress Eva Longoria's UDRP of EvaLongoria.org.

An example of corporate typosquatting is yuube.com, targeting YouTube users. Similarly, www.airfrance.com has been typosquatted by www.arifrance.com, diverting users to a website peddling discount travel.

And even Wikipedia itself has been frequently targeted by typosquatters, with several different URLs; in addition to the URL mentioned in the Infobox screenshot, "wikipeda.org" (Wikipedia without the third lowercase 'I'), which seems to host an imitation of Wikipedia that really redirects users to spam, and "vvikipedia.org" (using two V's instead of a 'W'), which supposedly is hosted by GoDaddy and is a simple single page with nothing but ads on it.

Resolution procedure

Computer security experts estimate there are thousands of so-called typosquatters. But there are also ways to avoid them. First and foremost pay attention to what you type into your web browser. A good way to get to popular merchants or financial institutions is to go through a search engine.

"Google, yahoo, bing, all the popular search engines are not only going to have legitimate addresses for those merchants and those financial institutions but they're also going to scan those sites for malware to prevent drive-by hacking," D'Ovidio said. And, of course, use common sense. If a website looks suspicious or fishy it probably is so exit and try again.

In the United States, the 1999 Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) contains a clause (Section 3(a), amending 15 USC 1117 to include sub-section (d)(2)(B)(ii)) aimed at combatting typosquatting.

However, on April 17, 2006, controversial evangelist Jerry Falwell failed to get the U.S. Supreme Court to review a decision allowing Christopher Lamparello to use "www.fallwell.com". Relying on a plausible misspelling of Falwell's name, Lamparello's gripe site presents misdirected visitors with scriptural references that counter the fundamentalist preacher's scathing rebukes against homosexuality. In Lamparello v. Falwell, the high court let stand a 2005 Fourth Circuit finding that "the use of a mark in a domain name for a gripe site criticizing the markholder does not constitute cybersquatting."

Under the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP), trademark holders can file a case at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) against typosquatters (as with cybersquatters in general). The complainant has to show that the registered domain name is identical or confusingly similar to their trademark, that the registrant has no legitimate interest in the domain name, and that the domain name is being used in bad faith.


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