In the early years of the internet, many businesses and individuals lacked a comprehensive understanding of the commercial opportunities available online. During this time, certain cybercriminals would take advantage of this by registering domains in the name of established companies and profiting from this. This was the beginning of cybersquatting.
Because nowadays most people are much more advanced when it comes to technology and savvy enough to understand the importance of controlling domains related to their names of businesses, cybersquatting is less common than it used to be. Nevertheless, it does still occur, and such issues can surprise its victims, so it is therefore important that high-profile companies and individuals understand how it works and how it can affect them.
Cybersquatting is a form of cybercrime where the perpetrator buys or registers a domain name that is identical or similar to existing domain with the intention of profiting from a recognizable trademark, company name, or personal name. Crucially, the act is illegal because of the bad faith intent of the squatter. Due to its nature, domain squatting can be considered a form of trademark infringement, though there are differences between the two. There are several types of cybersquatting, and attacks may be carried out with different goals in mind.
In many cases, squatters register domains with the intention of later selling them to established businesses or brand owners for a significant profit. However, some cybersquatters are more malicious and engage in web squatting with more nefarious intent. For example, they may use similar domains to create phishing page, scams, or even fake surveys to collect user data.
Convinces visitors to download and launch malware on their computers.
Cybersquatting can have wide-ranging implications for legitimate businesses. It can result in fraud, data breaches, and damage to their public reputations.
In its simplest form, cybersquatting is the act of buying or registering domain names with the specific intent of profiting off a trademark owned by another person. Technically, all types of cybersquatting are illegal. However, there are some cases in which the alleged crime is unintentional and therefore, not illegal. For example, if there is an existing website with the domain SmithConsulting.com that specializes in image consulting and someone registers a new domain with the name SmythConsulting.com which focuses on financial consulting, this is unlikely to be a case of cybersquatting since the similarity in names is likely accidental, and the latter is probably not profiting from the use of the former’s name.
To deal with a case of cybersquatting, a company or trademark owner may choose to engage with the squatter and pay them off to take control of the domain name. However, because there are now also certain legislative instruments in place, it is also possible to build a case against the squatter and prosecute the crime.
To build a case, the onus is on the claimant to prove that a case of illegal web squatting has occurred. To do this, they would generally have to offer evidence that:
There are several legislations that protect businesses and individuals against web squatting. Although many of them only offer protection within the United States, some are internationally applicable.
If a claimant can prove a case of cybersquatting under these legislative instruments, they will be entitled to some form of restitution. Depending on the details of the case, they might receive injunctive relief, damages in the form of monetary payments and legal fees.
Here are a few of the most famous cases of web squatting:
Although cybersquatting is an umbrella term for one type of cybercrime, there are several different variations—all of which are illegal. These are some of the types of cybersquatting to be aware of.
Perhaps one of the most common forms of web squatting, this refers to intentionally misspelled domain names that mimic well-known sites or brand names. The fraudulent address may be a subtle variation of the original, such as one different letter or the addition of a hyphen. The name derives from the fact that the cybersquatter takes advantage of potential typos people can make. One example of this might be Googgle.com instead of Google.com.
In this type of cybersquatting, a cybercriminal will steal a company’s digital identity by creating a similar domain. When internet users try and access the company’s website, they may click the wrong link and end up on the fraudulent site instead. Another example of identity theft domain squatting could be if the cybersquatter buys an existing domain whose domain registration has lapsed. The original owner would then have to take legal action to regain control of the domain.
Name jacking, one of the most popular types of cybersquatting, occurs when a squatter uses the personal name of someone of significance to create a fake website. This is often seen, for example, in the case of celebrities, when cybersquatters register domains—or more nefariously, social media profiles—in their names. Name jacking can be difficult to prosecute because it might not always be possible to prove that it was done intentionally. However, in the United States, people can trademark personal names, which can help build a case against a cybersquatter.
Also known as reverse domain name hijacking, this refers to a technique where cybercriminals take advantage of the existing legal framework to facilitate their domain squatting. To perpetrate this, the cybersquatter will first choose a specific existing website to target, for example, InfinityFinance.com. Then, they will register a business with the same name, such as Infinity Finance Ltd. Once all of this is in order, they will then claim that the legitimate owner is web squatting using the business name that they own and use the law—like the ACPA—to try and gain control of the website in question.
Business owners—and domain owners—can take steps to minimize the potential for cybersquatting. And if it does happen, understanding how to mitigate the damage is crucial for taking back control of the website. Here are some suggestions for avoiding and dealing with domain squatting:
Website visitors can also succumb to domain squatting, so it is critical to always be vigilant while online. Here are a few tips to avoid falling victim to web squatting while on the internet:
Although it is becoming less common, cybersquatting is still something to be wary of. Understanding how it works, the different types of squatting, and when it is illegal is important for protecting the interests and reputations of high-profile businesses and individuals. Companies can protect themselves by proactively buying related domain names and registering their business name as a trademark, for example. In addition, internet users can avoid falling victim to web squatters by following simple internet security tips while online.
Kaspersky Endpoint Security received three AV-TEST awards for the best performance, protection, and usability for a corporate endpoint security product in 2021. In all tests, Kaspersky Endpoint Security showed outstanding performance, protection, and usability for businesses.
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