Typosquatting, also called URL hijacking, a sting site, or a fake URL, is a form of cybersquatting, and possibly brandjacking which relies on mistakes such as typographical errors made by Internet users when inputting a website address into a web browser. Should a user accidentally enter an incorrect website address, they may be led to any URL (including 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")
- A common misspelling, or foreign language spelling, of the intended site: exemple.com
- A misspelling based on typing errors: xample.com or examlpe.com
- A differently phrased domain name: examples.com
- A different top-level domain: example.org
- An abuse of the Country Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD) :example.cm by using .cm A person forgetting or mistakenly not typing the letter o in .com could arrive at the fake URL's website.
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:
- In order to try to sell the typo domain back to the brand owner
- To "park" the typo domain and make pay-per-click revenues from direct navigation misspellings of the intended domain
- To redirect the typo-traffic to a competitor
- 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.
- As a phishing scheme to mimic the brand's site, while intercepting passwords which the visitor enters unsuspectingly
- To install drive-by malware or revenue generating adware onto the visitors' devices
- To harvest misaddressed e-mail messages mistakenly sent to the typo domain
- To block malevolent use of the typo domain by others
- To expose users to Internet pornography.
Many companies, including Verizon, Lufthansa, and Lego, have garnered reputations for aggressively chasing down typosquatted names. Lego, for example, has spent roughly $500,000 USD on taking 309 cases through UDRP proceedings.
From 2006 to 2008, a typosquatted variant of Google called 'Goggle.com' existed. Visiting the website would cause the domain to automatically download various computer viruses and other malicious software to the computer, including the rogue Antispyware program SpySheriff. The website today is a link to a scam where you can win popular gadgets.
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 by having it programmed to redirect to a malicious website or page. Similarly, www.airfrance.com has been typosquatted by www.arifrance.com, diverting users to a website peddling discount travel.
People trying to visit the popular internet-based game agar.io may misspell said URL as agor.io. Visiting this site will produce a jumpscare of popular Internet creepypasta Jeff the Killer, which flashes rapidly and produces a loud noise.
In United States law
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 are intended to 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."
WIPO resolution procedure
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.
- Damerau–Levenshtein distance
- Doppelganger domain
- IDN homograph attack
- Misdialed call#Toll-free numbers (for similar attacks on vanity toll-free telephone number phonewords)
- "Microsoft Strider project with screenshots of typosquatted domains". Research.microsoft.com. Retrieved 2012-03-09.
- "'Typosquatting': How 1 mistyped letter could lead to ID theft". Bankrate. Retrieved 14 January 2016.
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- Kelly M. Slavitt: Protecting Your Intellectual Property from Domain Name Typosquatters (2004)
- "Anti-CyberSquatting Protection Act." US Library of Congress, Thomas.loc.gov, accessed 24 October 2008.
- "Without typosquatters, how far would Google fall?" Cade Metz, The Register, Theregister.co.uk, accessed 24 October 2008.
- Jim Giles: Typos may earn Google $500m a year New Scientist, 17 February 2010 (reporting research by Ben Edelman and Tyler Moore: Measuring Typosquatting Perpetrators and Funders)
- "The Internet Commerce Association Code of Conduct". InternetCommerce.org. Retrieved 2007-09-13.
The Internet Commerce Association’s (ICA) Member Code of Conduct expresses the ICA’s recognition of the responsibilities of its members to the intellectual property, domain name, and at large Internet communities and will guide members in conducting their domain name investment and development activities with professionalism, respect and integrity.
- "The Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse to Combat Cybersquatting". ComplianceAndPrivacy.com. Retrieved 2007-09-20.
With growing ease and profitability, sophisticated cybersquatters are exploiting a flaw in the domain name registration process whereby domain names are registered and subsequently dropped, risk free, within an accepted 5-day grace period.
- "TypoSquatting". Retrieved 2013-02-27.
Web tool which shows lots of mistyped registered domains (German).