Domain squatting is a serious problem for organizations of all sizes.
The use of adult details such as .xxx and .porn is particularly problematic.
There are easy-to-use solutions to help you protect your brand from these domains-focused attacks.
Anyone who owns more than one domain should be worried about bad online actors who want to compromise brands and trademarks by various forms of domain-based attacks. Sadly, the criminals have developed many tricks:
Registering domains by fraudsters that want to profit by impersonating your intellectual property. You may not have an Internet presence, which means fraud-minded actors might have beaten you to get their sites put online ahead of yours. This is called cybersquatting and was popular in the early days of the Internet, before brands began to use the web for their own purposes. One of the earliest cases was when Josh Quitter, a freelance writer, bought McDonalds.com for a story he was writing for Wired magazine. This was back in 1994, and he tried to get someone at the company interested in ultimately using the domain. However, he couldn’t get any traction, even once his story ran. He eventually gave the domain ownership to the company once they made a small donation to a public school’s computer lab.
Registering domains that are similar to your existing domains with slight spelling variations. These are called typosquatting attacks because the bad actors tend to divert legitimate traffic to their domains for profit. The squatters typically register a domain with small spelling errors, adding a hyphen or substituting similar-looking characters, counting on web visitors to make common typo mistakes when entering the name in the browser’s navigation bar. The fraudsters could take things a step further by duplicating your brand’s homepage and overall site look and feel to make their copycat site appear more authentic. One of the early typosquatted domains ironically was Goggle.com, which was quickly taken down when it was discovered by Google. The fraudster could also try to park a squatted domain and hold the brand hostage by the target before taking it down.
Registering similar domains using alphabetic variations, a more specialized form of typosquatting called homograph attacks, which we have written about previously. These variations are more subtle and harder to distinguish. The good news is that most modern browser versions automatically detect and repel these attacks.
Using a series of “adult” top-level domain extensions (.xxx, .sex, .porn and .adult) to dilute your brand and further divert traffic, which is called pornsquatting. Pornsquatting can be particularly harmful because it associates your brand name with pornographic content. For example, a bad actor might register ‘yourbrandname.xxx’ or ‘yourbrandname.sex’ to draw traffic away from your site and use your brand to promote adult content and malicious software. It’s a popular method of cybersquatting and it has proven effective, unfortunately. Over the years, the number of these specialized extensions — for other types of businesses beyond the adult industry — has exploded, presenting fraudsters with all kinds of opportunities to create copycat websites. There are now hundreds of these new domain extensions, such as .AGENCY, .ARAB, .ASIA, .AUTHOR and .AUTO (and we haven’t even gotten out of the beginning of the A’s!) and they are a lot harder to keep track of.
All of these attacks depend on humans to remember to renew (or create) their domain names, but this is an issue for several reasons. First, there may be several IT and non-IT managers in charge of your domain portfolio. If your company has purchased subsidiaries or merged with other enterprises, it might not be immediately clear who is in charge of which collection of domain names.
Second, these managers come and go through the natural process of getting promoted or finding new jobs. Their responsibilities are often not clear-cut or and you can't trust that they will remember what to do with the domain names under their purview.
And finally, because domain names typically are only renewed annually at best, it is easy to forget about looking after the,, even though most domain registrars have automatic renewal plans that can at least help the process. Remembering to keep up with all the TLDs associated with pornsquatting can be challenging, to say the least.
Clearly, domain owners need better forms of brand protection that are less dependent on human memory. Now Network Solutions has two next-generation offerings to help with preventing these cybersquatting practices: AdultBlock and AdultBlock+. If you have registered your trademarks with the appropriate authorities, you can make use of these services. The services are the next step in mitigating brand and trademark abuses and reducing the risk that hackers will take over your domains and compromise both your brands and your intellectual property for unsavory and illegal purposes.
The AdultBlock services include hiding the WHOIS data and the four adult domain extensions and blocking new domains when they become available. This means these services can help you stay current on monitoring and tracking new domains that could be added to your overall portfolio without any guesswork. This a great choice for new and growing businesses that are trying to build their brand, along with established companies that have already established some brand equity and want to protect that investment. The AdultBlock+ service also adds the ability to block homographic variations across 24 different languages and supports the protection of multiple trademark labels. (Labels are included as protected property of the associated trademark.)
Now is the time to step up your protection game and use better automated tools. Your brand and your trademarks are important corporate assets that are worth protecting in every way you can. Let Network Solutions help you with trademark protection services that prevent domain squatting and guard your reputation online.