Apple, Google and Facebook are preferred targets of domain typosquatters more so than competitors like Twitter and Microsoft. That’s according to a new study from internet security company Sophos, which also found that there’s not as much danger in typosquatted domains as you might think — just a lot of URLs using Google to make a dime.
Typosquatting involves registering domain names that are close in spelling to established company names/domains. Typosquatters get traffic when someone mistypes a domain in their browser’s address bar — think abpple.com instead of apple.com — and it can be an extremely profitable venture in some cases.
In its study, Sophos looked at five major internet brands — Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter — and added its own domain for comparison. It counted and examined all possible one-letter .com typos for each domain and came up with 2,249 unique domains, like twitterz.com and pple.com.
Of that domain list, about two-thirds (1,502) resolved to a website. Apple, Google and Facebook led the way: More than 80% of the possible typosquat domains for those three companies are in use.
Sophos notes that not all domains that are one-letter off from these major sites are actually typosquatting domains. Racebook.com, for example, is a legitimate site for betting on horse races.
Typosquatted Domains & Cybercrime
There’s not as much danger lurking in typosquatted domains as you might think. But there is a lot of Google advertising on those domains, Sophos found.
Out of nearly 15,000 URLs from the 1,502 active domains, only one contained malware. But almost three percent did fall into Sophos’ “cybercrime” category — sites “associated with hacking, phishing, online fraud or spamming” — and another two percent were adult or dating sites.
Typosquatted Domains & Google
As you can see, advertising sites make up a big chunk of the typosquatted domains that Sophos examined, and Sophos found that Google ads are the primary way these sites make money. From the study:
The main player in managing page content for typosquat domains, including the “related search” links on typosquat pages, is Google’s DoubleClick subsidiary.
More than 560 of the 1502 pages (37%) in our test made use of DoubleClick, which serves numerous domain parking businesses, including Bodis, Oversee, Sedo and Demand Media.
That’s not the only way typosquatters use Google. Sophos says that Google was the “most commonly abused brand” in the study, with numerous sites presenting a Google-like interface complete with Google’s logo. These sites make money by passing off sponsored links as organic search results.
Google has registered some typo domains, such as gogle.com, googl.com and googel.com. And it’s likely that Apple, Facebook and the other companies have done the same. But there are obviously plenty of domain owners taking advantages of two things: the domains those companies missed, and our collective penchant to occasionally misspell the domains we’re trying to reach.