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 typos 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).
- A common misspelling, or foreign language spelling, of the intended site: exemple.com
- A misspelling based on typos: 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, example.co by using .co, or example.om by using .om. A person leaving out a letter in .com in error 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. Spam emails sometimes make use of typosquatting URLs to trick users into visiting malicious sites that look like a given bank's site, for instance.
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 monetize the domain through advertising 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.
- 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 express an opinion that is different from the intended website's opinion
Many companies, including Verizon, Lufthansa, and Lego, have garnered reputations for aggressively chasing down typosquatted names. Lego, for example, has spent roughly US$500,000 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.
Since 2006, a typosquatted variant of Google called 'Goggle.com' has existed which was considered a phishing/fraud site; later (ca. 2011–2012) the URL redirected to google.com, while a 2018 check revealed it to redirect users to adware pages. Another example of corporate typosquatting is yuube.com, targeting YouTube users by having it programmed to redirect to a malicious website or page, that asks users to add a security check extension that is really malware. Similarly, www.airfrance.com has been typosquatted by www.arifrance.com, diverting users to a website peddling discount travel. Other examples are Equifacks.com (Equifax.com), Experianne.com (Experian.com), and TramsOnion.com (TransUnion.com); these three typosquatted sites were registered by comedian John Oliver for his show Last Week Tonight.
Users trying to visit the popular internet-based game Agar.io may misspell the said URL as agor.io. Visiting this site was known to produce a jumpscare or screamer of the popular creepypasta Jeff the Killer, which flashed rapidly and produced a loud noise. The original site was taken down and as of 2017, it has linked to randomly-themed phishing websites.
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, 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)
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- Kelly M. Slavitt: Protecting Your Intellectual Property from Domain Name Typosquatters (2004)
- "John Oliver Creates Fake Web Sites to Troll Major Three Credit Bureaus".
- "Top Scariest Websites on the Internet". TheTopTens.
- "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).