In 2017, the average American spent as much as 24 hours online each week. In 2019, average time spent online jumped to 6.5 hours daily—that’s 45 hours every week! In 2021, according to the Pew Research Center, 31% of adults in the U.S. say they’re online “almost constantly.”
Hackers and bad actors have noticed the uptick in internet use, and they’re taking advantage of people spending so much time online. One way they do this is with something called typosquatting.
What is typo squatting? Typosquatting is a way to capitalize on the mistakes and misspellings users might make when typing a URL into their web browser. It’s a simple way to get people to compromise their own data security, and it’s something business owners should know about.
What is Typosquatting?
Typosquatting by definition is a form of URL hijacking. Traditional URL hijacking often refers to search engines mistaking temporary redirects for “real” websites and delisting the original domain.
Typo squatting takes advantage of common typos or misspellings users make. Someone will establish a registered domain legally that uses common typos, in the hopes that internet users will accidentally find them. Typosquatted websites then have to compete with fake sites and fake URLs.
For example, a user might intend to go to Google to search for something, type “www.gooogle.com” into the URL field, and press Enter. Notice the extra “o” in the URL? That little typo could be responsible for a case of typosquatting.
Fortunately, this isn’t Google’s first rodeo, and they’ve secured their URL against typosquatting by claiming common misspellings. By doing this—likely using simple redirects to point back to the correct domain—Google ensures that even if someone makes a typo they can still find the correct website.
If Google hadn’t secured its URL misspellings, you might wind up on a site you really don’t want to visit.
Why Typosquatting is Harmful
In Google’s case, and in the case of many larger websites/companies, typosquatting usually isn’t an issue. This is because most modern large companies understand the importance of strong SEO tactics that utilize smart security practices.
For smaller, less experienced companies, typosquatting can drive away customers and lead to data security issues for users.
Typosquatting is a way for malicious actors, hackers, or even just your competition to get internet users to visit a website unintentionally.
Reasons for typosquatting include:
- Making fun of a brand
- Selling fake or non-existent products
- Domain parking/ransom
- Fake surveys or giveaways
- Traffic monetization
- Affiliate links
- Malware installation
- And more
Your competition might add letters to your domain name and create websites around those misspelled domains. The goal in this case would be to steal a consumer that might otherwise buy from you.
Malicious actors might register common misspellings of popular websites and create dummy or lookalike websites that are almost identical to the originals. These typosquatting sites are then used to compromise data security. The goal in this case would be to get people to enter their personal information when registering for a service or buying a product—usually contact information or credit cards.
Common Typosquatting Examples
The typosquatting definition is pretty straightforward in that the tactic deals with typos and squatting on mistaken URLs. That said, there are a number of different typosquatting scenarios you should know.
- Common typosquatting examples include:
- Typos: Typos are any kind of mistake made when trying to type or search for a URL.
- Misspellings: Misspellings are a kind of typo in which users accidentally substitute an incorrect letter. All misspellings are typos. Not all typos are misspellings.
- Alternative spellings: Alternative spellings could include popular slang letters, words or phrases. An example would be www.freephotos.com versus www.freefotos.com.
- Different domain extensions: Using an alternative domain extension is a popular way to typosquat on someone else’s URL. Rather than a .com, a typosquatter might use a .org or a .net but keep the rest of the URL the same as the original.
- Adding/deleting hyphens: Adding or deleting a hyphen from a URL (e.g. www.face-book.com) is an easy way to create a new typosquatted domain.
- Piggybacking on brand recognition: Typosquatters often riff on brand recognition to trick users into believing a false URL is actually associated with the parent company. An example might be something like www.nike-shop.com versus the real www.nike.com.
- Altering country codes: A country code top-level domain (ccTLD) is generally reserved for a country—think .uk or .eu—but typosquatters might alter these to create sketchy URL-hijacked websites.
Generally, these are the most common ways fraudulent or fake websites capitalize on user mistakes. Most of these alternative websites are simple slip-ups that the average internet user wouldn’t think to notice. If a “fake” website creates a copycat user interface and users can’t tell the difference, that can be a problem for the original domain owner.
How to Guard Against Typosquatting
The most important step you can take to guard against typosquatting is to register domains with common typos and misspellings that are similar to your own. Then, you can use redirects to point those domains back to your real URL. You can do this with different country codes and even alternative spellings.
Your SEO specialist should be monitoring, tracking and registering these kinds of domains to keep malicious actors or the competition from doing the same.
Another way to help users recognize your URL as the correct, authentic URL is to get an SSL certificate. SSL certificates are like badges of approval that let visitors know your website is secure and encrypted.
Lastly, to protect against email typosquatting, make sure your email platform is secure and protected. Most modern email gateways offer detection software that helps you track mismatched headers and sender addresses.
Protect Your Website to Stop Typosquatting
Protecting your website against bad actors, hackers and tech-savvy competitors is an ongoing battle. Typosquatting and URL hijacking are only some of the threats you face when your brand starts to get recognized.
It’s best to protect your company on all fronts. Working with an enterprise-level security provider like Quadrant Information Security to help identify vulnerabilities and find the perfect security solutions is a smart move.
Contact one of our security experts today to improve your data security and protect the website you’ve put so much work into creating.