Watch Out For 'Typosquatter' Sites
Surely you've had this experience before: You mistype an Internet address in your Web browser, only to end up at a porn site or some random Web page that tries to install software or hijack your browser's settings.
Well, score one for Google. On Friday, the search-engine giant won an arbitration settlement against a Russian man who had registered Web sites that capitalized on numerous misspellings of the company's trademark name.
According to an Associated Press story, an arbitrator for the National Arbitration Forum endorsed Google's contention that the misspelled addresses were part of a sinister plot hatched by one Sergey Gridasov of St. Petersburg, Russia. Google claimed that Gridasov had "typosquatted" on domains such as googkle.com, ghoogle.com, gfoogle.com and gooigle.com, in a plot to infect computers with programs that can lead to recurring system crashes, wipe out valuable data or provide hackers with a window into highly sensitive information.
Finnish anti-virus software maker F-Secure Corp. issued a warning about the typosquatted domains in an alert posted in April.
While Google's victory is certainly welcome news for companies looking to protect their trademarks from being used to serve up malicious software or just plain obnoxious advertising, typosquatters can do quite a bit of damage during the weeks and months it takes for a company to arbitrate the dispute and gain control over the misspelled domain names.
What's more, this type of underground marketing is pervasive. Take washingtonpost.com, for instance. I spent a few minutes the other day transposing side-by-side letters in washingtonpost.com, just to see what I'd find. Sure enough, it wasn't long before I happened upon a typosquatting site that installed something called the "Ad Exchange Browser Toolbar," supposedly to help me browse the Web. The only problem was I neither asked for nor authorized the software to be installed (for obvious reasons, I'm not going to post the link here). Omitting a certain letter from the spelling of our site showed me an advertisement for an explicit "adult friend finder" service. Yet another misspelling of washingtonpost.com launches a flurry of very persistent pop-up ads for a supposed anti-spyware program called Spyware Stormer, a program that has been roundly panned as an ineffective knock-off of a well-known legitimate anti-spyware program.
The lesson in all this is be careful what you type in your browser window. And if you find yourself on one of these cybersquatting sites, get off immediately, then run an updated virus and spyware scan. And, as always, be sure you're running a firewall. See our cyber-security tips for more information on how to protect your computer.
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