A Very Dangerous Typo

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fake website

When using the Internet, those who shun caution while typing usually have nothing to worry about save perhaps a Facebook friend telling them they have horrible grammar.  There is, however, one type of typo that can leave you with a computer full of malware.  This can lead to expensive computer repairs, diminished computer performance, or even identity theft. This type of typo is the kind you may punch into a URL/address bar of your internet browser. For example, when you intend to go to www.facebook.com, but in reality you type in www.fcaebook.com. This is known as Typosquatting and it is a form of cybersquatting that exploits an internet users typographical errors or mistakes. A typosquatter uses different techniques in order to lead a victim to their site. They may use a commonly misspelled word, switch letters (as in the example above) or use a different domain than the site they are trying to cybersquat on.

When you get to what you think is your intended destination on the web, it may resemble the site you were trying to visit, but is in actuality a different site.  It is most likely a site that you have now been redirected to.  Once at the “fake” site internet users may find a site which is designed to:

  • Install malware on your system.  This malware may be used for keylogging, turning your machine into a bot, turning on and recording from your webcam or a host of other malicious things.
  • Look exactly like the site you were trying to visit and therefore trick you into entering in information. The level of danger in having this information stolen by thieves can range depending on what site you thought you were visiting.  It may not be so bad if you give up your Twitter log in information However, perhaps the site that was being typosquatted on was a tax filing site.  You would be giving away a damaging amount of Personal Identifying Information (PII).
  • Sell a similar product. Perhaps you think you are visiting acmetire.com, which you have known to be a reputable company.  Instead you end up throwing in an s and buy tires from acmetires.com.  Who knows if you will get the same level of service you would have at the company you have learned to trust… or if you will ever get the product you purchased at all.
  • Provide adult content. A misplaced finger which leads you to an 18+ website may not be harmful to many adults. However, it is not something you would like your children to come across by accident or to pop up on your screen as your boss happens by your desk.

Considering that most people make grammatical errors many times a day, it may seem as though it is impossible to avoid these typosquatters.  However there are some very easy things you can do to protect yourself from having any nasty surprises while visiting your favorite site:

  • Double check the URL address again before you hit enter to visit a site.
  • Make sure your anti-virus is active and current. This can protect you from malware, should you manage to end up on a typosquatting site which aims to infect your system.
  • Keep your software patches current.  Those seemingly annoying updates for Java are actually one of the best ways to keep your computer safe.

These are good things to remember when using the internet.  So it shouldn’t be too difficult for you to avoid the typosquatters as well.

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Nikki Junker

Nikki Junker is Social Media Coordinator and Victim Advisor at The Identity Theft Resource Center. She specializes in Identity Theft on social networks and smartphones. She enjoys working one on one with victims of identity theft as well as researching and writing about preventative measures for consumers.