More than a decade after typosquatting became an Internet hazard, criminals and opportunists are still abusing mis-spelled domains on a scale that is leaving users and businesses out of pocket, consultancy High-Tech Bridge has found.
The company used its ImmuniWeb SaaS Phishing system to analyse 946 'typo' domains that were close but not identical to legitimate domains used by 10 well-known antivirus firms, for example 'kasperski.com' or 'mcaffee.com'.
Of these High-The Bridge detected 385 domains that appeared to be attempting to pass themselves off as one of these domains; just over 40 percent, or 164, turned out to be in some way fraudulent (i.e redirecting to phishing sites, displaying ads for bogus products and services). A further 73 were simply being squatted, presumably in the hope that one of the affected firms might buy them at some point.
Interestingly, 107 had been registered by the antivirus firms themselves to avoid abuse leaving only 41 being used by firms that happened to have a legitimate brand or trademark that could be confused with one of the firms.
The brand most abused by fraudsters lined up very roughly with market share, with Symantec, Avast, Bitdefender, Norton and Avira showing up most often. Kaspersky's low showing on that list could have something to do with what appears to be a policy of buying up domains that could be squatted, on 17 occasions High-Tech Bridge discovered.
Typosquatting is one of the oldest Internet security problems and yet the average lifespan of a criminal domain turned out to be an astonishing 1,181 days or more than three years. Squatted domains are being kept on a shorter leash, surviving only 431 days.
The most popular registrars for such domains were Fabulous.com (27 domains), GoDaddy (25), PDR Ltd (24), Enom (18) and Tucows (15); this put the US out in front with 75 domains, ahead of Austraia with 24, Switzerland with 19, Germany with 16 and the UK with only 8.
It's as if with many other security issues crowding the problem list, vendors, service providers and even users have given up worrying about this type of threat.
"We can see that even such powerful businesses as antivirus companies are falling victim to cyber squatters and fraudsters," commented High-Tech Bridge CEO, Ilia Kolochenko.
"Today, not many countries have efficient laws against cybercrime, fraud and Trade Mark abuse. Jurisprudence in this domain is even less developed. Governments in many countries refuse to collaborate in cybercrime investigations. Law enforcement agencies don't have enough skilled people, budget and experience to counter digital crime.
"Only by joining the efforts of the private sector, governments and law enforcement agencies can we prevent, or at least minimise, illegal activities in the digital space."
High-Tech Bridge's study offers only a tiny insight into the scale of the problem with a wide number of branded firms and trademarks being attacked by typosquatters. Major world events are also a popular target with the 2012 Olympic Games finding itself on the receiving end of a small tidal wave of bogus sites.
Very occasionally the law strikes back such as in the case of two Dutch firms fined by the UK premium rate regulator PhonepayPlus in 2012 for impersonating domains including Twitter, YouTube and Wikipedia in order to deceive mobile users.