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 error (typos) made by Internet users when inputting a URL (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 Uniform Resource Locator (URL) will usually be one of five kinds, all similar to the victim site address (e.g. example.com):
- A common misspelling, or foreign language spelling, of the intended site: exemple.com
- A misspelling based on typographical error (typos): examlpe.com
- A differently phrased domain name: examples.com
- A different top-level domain (TLD): 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.
- Combosquatting - no misspelling, but appending an arbitrary word that appears legitimate, but that anyone could register. "Combosquatting is around one hundred times more common than typosquatting.": example-security.com
- Doppelganger domain - omitting a period: financeexample.com (instead of finance.example.com)
- Extra period: e.xample.com
- Appending terms to name an intuitive name for a gripe site's: example-sucks.com or examplesucks.com
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 express an opinion that is different from the intended website's opinion
- By legitimate site owners: to block malevolent use of the typo domain by others
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 Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (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.
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.