Typo-Squatting on Rise, But Less Redirection to Adult

Q Boyer
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Security firm McAfee Inc. indicates that fewer typo-squatters are using their domains to push traffic to adult sites than in previous years, according to a new study on the practice of “typo-squatting” — registering domain names for likely misspellings of well-known sites and brand names in order to generate traffic from surfer typos.

In assembling the study, McAfee reviewed 1.9 million variations on the 2,771 most popular existing domain names to get a sense of the latest tricks being employed by typo-squatters.

Among McAfee’s major findings was that the practice of directing traffic from nonadult domain name typos to adult sites and/or posting adult content on typo sites has declined since earlier studies were conducted in 2005 and 2002.

“The incidence of pornographic content on nonadult typo-squatted sites is just 2.4 percent, suggesting improvement since previous studies by other researchers,” McAfee said in its report.

Adult brands, on the other hand, have been heavily targeted by typo-squatters, according to the McAfee report. Of the popular domains examined in its study, McAfee said that the most commonly targeted sites for typo-squatters were game sites (14 percent targeted), airline sites (11.4 percent) and mainstream media company sites (10.8 percent), followed by adult sites (10.2 percent) and “Web 2.0-related” sites (9.6 percent).

ASACP Executive Director Joan Irvine told XBIZ that she found the latest typo-squatting data encouraging, as it demonstrated that there has been some progress since she first started with ASACP in 2002.

“It has gone from the Wild West to people realizing that they are running real companies,” Irvine said. “It’s no longer people thinking ‘I’m doing this for beer money.’ It’s good to see that people have grown their business — and grown up.”

Much of the decline in adult content on typo-squatting domains might be attributable to changes in U.S. law and the arrest of a single man — infamous typo-squatter John Zuccarini.

Zuccarini, who did business under a variety of corporate names, reportedly owned more than 8,800 domains prior to his arrest in 2003, at least 90 percent of which redirected to adult websites, according to researcher Ben Edelman.

The methods of Zuccarini and other typo-squatters led Internet users to be exposed unwillingly to adult content. Combined with widespread intellectual property concerns, concerns over the exposure of minors to adult content led the U.S. Congress to pass the “Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act” (also known as the “Truth in Domain Names Act”) in 2003.

Zuccarini pleaded guilty to violating the anticybersquatting act in 2004, and received a sentence of 2.5 years.