Cybercriminals are using top level domains (TLD) to their advantage, performing domain fraud in the hopes of directing user traffic towards their own registered sites. Domain fraud happens when hackers register a domain that is made to look legitimate by using, for example, typos in the site name. The domains are meant to imitate real company names.
In the instance of typo use, these lookalike domains replace letters that are easy to go unnoticed without a second glance. For example, cybercriminals can replace “m” with “r” and “n” combined and easily trick site visitors into thinking the domain is legitimate. These illegitimate sites with typo-registered domains can be used for phishing schemes in which a hacker may attach their domain link to an email made to look like it came from a real company source. After clicking on the link, victims would be directed to a fake site that asks for users to log in, thereby allowing hackers to steal sensitive credentials. Cybercriminals also use their fake sites for other means like selling counterfeit products of a well-recognized brand.
Researchers at Proofpoint noted how there has been an 11% increase in malicious domain registrations in 2018, with retail brand sites the main target for such domain fraud. 96% of organizations as part of Proofpoint’s customer base had noticed that their domains were copied as is, with the only exception being the domain name extension change (i.e. .net, .co, .info).
Due to the extensive variety in domain name extensions, cybercriminals have found it much easier to register domains that copy actual business sites or brand names. Alongside this, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation allows privacy for domain registrars thereby making it much more difficult to track cybercriminals.
Cybersecurity experts warn users to always check the URL for a safety certificate – in which HTTPS is used rather than HTTP – to ensure a fraudulent site isn’t used. However, hackers can always use safety certificates to their advantage, posing their site as one that is legitimate. In this case, it’s always best to double-check the URL spelling or do a quick search on Google to find the actual company site.