BLOG

Protecting Your Domain from Cybersquatting

9 minute read

Cyber squatting is registering a domain name that’s identical or similar to an existing company’s domain and using it for malicious purposes. Protecting your domain name from this type of cybercrime is essential for maintaining a good reputation, keeping your company data intact, and avoiding downtime.

Do you have all the safeguards in place to prevent cyber criminals from misusing your domain? Can you stop this cybercrime before it affects your business? Are you ready for the consequences of successful domain squatting?

Securing your domain and reputation begins with understanding how cybersquatting works.

What is Cybersquatting?

Cyber squatting involves registering a domain name that mimics the domain name of a reputable business and using it for blackmail, data theft, and other malicious purposes. The goal of cyber squatting is to profit from the hard work a company does to build its reputation.

In the majority of cases, cyber squatters register domain names identical to a business name in order to sell them to the brand owner in the future. While this is the most “innocent” way to leverage this tactic, it can become a serious problem for a company that essentially needs to pay a ransom for its trademark.

Other criminals go further to use the fake domain name to create phishing pages that fool the company’s customers and clients into sharing personal data. They can also leverage the reputable domain name to encourage users to download malicious software.

What is an Example of Cybersquatting?

Domain squatting has been around since the time businesses started building websites. Some of the most cybersquatting examples are:

Fox News

Cybercriminals registered domain names xofnews.com and foxnews-entertainment.com. When people would go to these sites hoping to find news, they would run into a weight loss supplement commercial. Since many people believe that Fox News is a reputable source, they are more likely to fall for the offer.

TikTok

Before TikTok started gaining momentum, two people who saw the potential of the platform purchased tiktoks.com for $2,000. After a while, Bytedance, the owner of TikTok offered them $145,000 to buy the domain name. They refused and started using the domain to develop a “follow-to-follow” service. A few years later, TikTok filed a cybersquatting case and won.

What Are the Consequences of Cybersquatting?

The consequences of a cybersquatting crime can be serious. They can include:

Loss of Reputation

Since cyber criminals use fake domain names to achieve their goals, customers and clients who fall for their scheme  and suffer the consequences aren’t likely to stay with the original company.

The longer that mimicked domain name exists, the harder it becomes for the original business to restore its reputation.

Financial Losses

When criminals use a fake domain name to collect personal data from customers and clients, the company faces the financial consequences of the data breach.

To buy the domain name that belongs to the trademark from a cyber squatter, companies can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Types of Cybersquatting

Cybersquatting comes in several forms. To achieve their criminal and financial goals, cyber squatters can use the following methods:

Typosquatting

Typosquatting involves registering a domain name with a typo in the original trademark. Cyber squatters take advantage of common errors that people use when typing the website address.

For example, if they are targeting Starbucks, the criminals could register starbucs.com or starbcks.com. Minor typos can be hard for the eye to catch, which makes this technique perfect for creating phishing sites.

Domain Kiting

Domain kiting involves registering a domain name, deleting it before the 5-day grace period is over, and then registering it again. This is done to avoid paying the domain registration fee, which is waived if the domain is deleted within five days of registration.

This allows cyber squatters to register multiple domain names for their purposes without incurring related expenses.

Reverse Cybersquatting

Reverse cybersquatting is a legal way to fight against cybersquatting. It involves reporting the malicious actions of a cyber squatter to the authorities in order to revoke their domain ownership rights.

However, cybercriminals often use this approach to falsely accuse the rightful domain owner of malicious cybersquatting and gain access to their domain.

Name Jacking

Cyber criminals can use the name of someone famous to create a website. For example, they could register adele.com or jenniferaniston.com. These domains can attract fans who are likely to trust whatever appears on their idol’s website.

What Is the Difference Between Cybersquatting and Typosquatting?

Cybersquatting is a general concept that describes registering a domain name that’s similar or identical to the domain name of a reputable company or person. Typosquatting in cybersecurity is a type of cybersquatting. It involves registering a domain name with a deliberate typo.

By registering a domain name that looks almost exactly like the real one, cybercriminals can create fishing sites that steal data and cause reputational damage to the real business.

Other cybersquatting tactics can help threat actors achieve other goals. For example, they could sell the domain name to the real business owner for an extremely high amount.

Laws and Regulations Against Cybersquatting

Cybersquatting is illegal. If you become a victim of this criminal act, you can seek legal protection under international and national cybersquatting laws.

Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP)

Under the UDRP, trademark owners can file a complaint against a domain registrant if they believe the domain name is identical or confusingly similar to their trademark, and that the registrant has no legitimate rights or interests in the domain. If the complaint is successful, the domain can be transferred to the trademark owner or canceled.

Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA)

The ACPA allows trademark owners to file a lawsuit against a domain registrant in U.S. Federal Court. To succeed under the ACPA, the trademark owner must show that:

  • The domain name is identical or confusingly similar to their trademark
  • The registrant acted in bad faith
  • The domain name was registered or used in connection with goods or services that are related to the trademark.

It’s up to the cyber squatting victim to prove the malicious act of the cyber squatter.  

Proactive Measures to Protect Your Domain from Cyber Squatters

Any company can become a victim of cyber squatting. In 2022, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) handled 7,000 cybersquatting cases. Many more remained undiscovered and unreported.

Whether you are a startup or an enterprise, you need to take proactive measures to prevent cybersquatting. They include:

Domain monitoring

Domain monitoring involves searching the web for domains that are confusingly similar to yours. This allows you to prevent the consequences of cyber squatters before attackers take action.  

ZeroFox offers a comprehensive set of domain monitoring tools aimed at preventing phishing campaigns, fraud, and reputational damage. This AI-powered domain fraud monitoring software allows you to protect your company and avoid financial and reputational issues.

With these instruments, you can receive real-time notifications about a threat actor registering a similar domain and start monitoring their actions immediately. If the criminal initiates a phishing attack using a similar domain name, you can use ZeroFox to disrupt the attacker’s infrastructure and stop the campaign before it causes harm.

Register Your Trademark

Registering your trademark is a fairly simple and inexpensive process that confirms your right to the intellectual property.

If you face a cybersquatting attack, you can use this registration to file a case against the criminal who leverages your domain name or a confusingly similar name for cybersquatting purposes.  

Secure Various Domain Extension

One of the popular forms of cybersquatting is registering an identical domain name with a different extension. For example, if your website is flowershop.com, the cyber squatter can register a domain name flowershop.net. This opens up multiple phishing opportunities.

Besides registering the preferred domain name, consider also registering the same name with different extensions (.com, .net., org, .us, .co). This can prevent criminals from mimicking your brand.

Register Common Misspellings

Consider registering domain names with common brand misspellings. For example, if your domain name is flowershop, you may want to also register flowrshop and dlowershop. This can prevent the criminal from registering this name and turning it into a phishing site that targets your audience.

Use a Reputable Domain Registrar

A domain registrar sells domain names and handles everything related to their registration. A reliable domain registrar should:

  • Be ICANN Accredited
  • Offer domain locking
  • Provide two-factor authentication
  • Offer Whois privacy protection

By choosing a reputable domain registrar, you reduce the chances of facing a cybersquatting.

How to Respond to Cyber Squatting

If you discover that you’ve become a victim of cyber squatting, you have to act fast. You can avoid major consequences by stopping the problem as soon as possible.

Document the Infringement

Collect as much evidence as possible to demonstrate that you have full ownership of the brand (show your trademark registration). Then you would have to provide a link to the criminal’s domain name that’s identical or similar to your brand name. Finally, you would need to show that the criminal is using this name maliciously.

Whois is a database that contains information on who owns a domain and how to contact them. You can use it to find out whether culprits have already registered your preferred domain name or something confusingly similar to it. You can do this by visiting who.is and typing the domain name into the search field.

Contact the Registrant

Once you have the registrant’s contact information, you can speak to them directly and ask them to stop the illegal activities or sell you the domain name voluntarily. This can help you avoid potentially costly and time-consuming legal action.

Initiate Domain Name Dispute Resolution

Filing a dispute in UDRP is one of the easiest ways to resolve the cyber squatting conflict. You would have to find an ICANN-approved dispute provider and file a complaint. If they find that your evidence is sufficient, they can give you the ownership of the domain in question or shut it down.

If settling the issue directly with the registrant or filing a dispute in UDRP doesn’t solve the problem, legal action may be the only way out. If you’ve registered your trademark, you have the right to sue the at-fault party under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.

Generally, such lawsuits can be expensive and take a long time. However, if you win, you won’t just get the domain name in question but may also recover damages. The amount can differ from $1,000 to $100,000 per domain.  

Secure Your Domain Today with ZeroFox

Robust domain protection is key to avoiding cyber squatting and its dire consequences. While cybersquatting laws exist, many cyber criminals break them to achieve their malicious goals. It’s up to the business owner to secure the domain and protect the company and its customers.

ZeroFox is a comprehensive cybersecurity platform that offers AI-driven domain protection tools. To find out how to take control of your domain security, sign up for a demo today.

See ZeroFox in action