January 21, 2012

The rise of a typosquatting army

Ulysses Wang

The week before we published a blog that discussed typosquatting of social web sites that lead visitors to spam survey sites with a high Alexa ranking. With our on-going research, we discovered that cyber-criminals are carrying out even more work, and the campaign is more widespread than we originally thought. Their targets are not limited to social web, but also include popular and frequently-visited registered typosquatting domains in all areas ranging from Google to Victoria's Secret, or Wikipedia to Craigslist; the list goes on. The attacker registers a network of typosquatting domains and redirects visitors of these mistyped sites to a spam survey site. The Websense® ThreatSeeker® Network has discovered over 7,000 typosquatting sites within this single network. 


These typosquatting sites redirect visitors to a suspicious URL via a URL shortening service. From there, they take them to a spam survey site (which we showed you in this blog). After visitors complete the spam survey, they are then taken to spam advertisement distributed sites where spam advertisements are displayed based on the their interests. An example of such advertisment is a free movie downloader as shown below. Currently, these spam advertisements are not spreading maliciously. However, if these networks are resold to underground groups, then the potential outcome could be even more damaging than the 0-day exploit security attacks.

You'd surprised by the number of visitors who mistype popular domain names. These mistyped domains generate a huge amount of traffic (some sites even managed to reach the Alexa top 250 list). For the careless users who fill in the survey, the cyber-criminals obtained their sensitive data. All of this can be translated into profit. Based on online web site valuation tools such as worthofweb.com (as shown below), we expect that attackers are pulling in a substantial income from typosquatting campaigns.


Websense Security Labs will continue monitor these campaigns and Websense customers are protected from these threats via ACE, our Advanced Classification Engine.

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