Mistyped Web Sites Lead To Malware

Ever type the wrong Web address by mistake? Did you know that cybercriminals snatch up typoed domains in order to create tempting lookalikes?

Typosquatting is the practice of registering a domain that is a typo of a common site, like goole.com instead of google.com. Most people don’t notice their typos, especially if they land on a site that looks similar to the one they expect. While some of these typoed sites are innocuous, others can contain everything from malware to password harvesters.

Security firm Sophos did an interesting study of typosquatting, and concluded that malware is actually the least of your problems if you wind up on a mistyped site. However, that’s not to say you shouldn’t be concerned about viruses.

More worrisome is the old bait-and-switch game. Sophos describes a situation in which you mistype apple.com and end up on a lookalike page that invites you to download iTunes. Except it’s not iTunes, it’s a site offering “unlimited music downloads.” And it doesn’t even give you that much, just access to some online forums of questionable value.

Another example of bait-and-switch is the brand ripoff. Many of the typos for search engine Google go to search engines that aren’t Google, but use the Google logo and serve up “results” that earn clickthrough cash for the squatters. Fake competitions and surveys also bring in the dough.

How can you avoid typosquatting?

  • Be careful what you type.
  • Check the address bar to confirm the site you’re on.
  • If things don’t look right, quit your browser and try again.
  • Hover over links without clicking and look at the status bar at the bottom to see where they go.
  • Use bookmarks to avoid typos.
  • Don’t rely on history instead of bookmarks, in case mistyped links linger there. (History shows where you’ve visited, bookmarks are shortcuts to links you visit frequently.)
  • Don’t try to click through a mistyped site to get to the real page, even if you are offered a link to do so. Quit your browser and start again.

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