Reality sets the stage
The reality is that ‘legitimate’ sites – such as those provided by hotels, airlines, schools, or any other ‘official’ organization – can be and very often are infected by various types of malicious software (AKA malware). The malware, once installed, enables cybercriminals to capture private information parked on or passing through the computer of the unsuspecting website visitor.
In addition to our own Avira Protection Lab findings, even Google reports that the vast majority of websites infected by malware are legitimate sites that have been hacked – often without the organization behind the site even being aware of it. This is why IT security firms like Avira frequently contact companies to let them know that their official websites have been compromised.
With legitimate sites a larger potential target, and people going to them doing so with false confidence in their level of safety, smart cybercriminals know that there is deception potential, even if an organization takes all necessary security measures to ensure that its website is secure. Sometimes the most-effective attacks are against the simplest of human errors – in this case, the typo, and thus mistyped URLs serve hackers as a simple enough distortion of a legitimate site.
This method taking advantage of misspelled URLs is known as ‘typosquatting’. Also called ‘fake URL’, ‘URL hijacking’, and ‘brandjacking’, the approach relies on the human tendency to make an error when typing a web address into a browser’s address bar, taking advantage of the most likely spelling variants (e.g. phonetic) and errors (e.g. letter transposition) to set a trap for the unsuspecting typist.
What it looks like
A hacker using the typosquatting technique with www.example.com would use variants such as www.example.org, www.exampel.com, www.ecsample.com, and so on. Once the person arrives on one of the incorrect sites, he/she has landed on an infected webpage (or gets redirected to one of several or many owned by a ‘cybersquatter’).
In some cases, the fake site will also look just like the original site – same messaging, same graphics, same logo. In a best-case scenario, the infected page contains only advertisements, but some of these can act as malware by opening one after another even if you try to exit the page – a technique known as ‘mousetrapping’.
The hacker’s motive
Almost without exception, the motive is profit. In the case of ad-infected pages, hackers earn money by redirecting traffic to the ads, plus more when those ads are clicked (which is bound to happen, based on sheer numbers driven to them). In the case of malware-infected pages, hackers earn money by stealing private data that enables them access to bank accounts.
Avira security software blocks malware and adware from installing on the potential victim’s PC, therefore preventing the theft of the Avira customer’s private data. While Avira Free Antivirus provides baseline protection (a level that everyone, without exception, should have as a bare minimum), Avira premium versions offer additional security layers and maintenance utilities to also keep your PC running like new.