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Typosquatting is the purchase of a misspelled version of a popular domain name for the purpose of attracting visitors who make typographical errors when entering web addresses. This practice is a form of cybersquatting. Cybersquatters purchase domain names with the goal of trading on the popularity and fame of a trademark or company and in some cases have even managed to snap up domain names before a parent company has a chance to buy them.
In the case of typosquatting, people take advantage of the fact that there are numerous potential misspellings of a domain that can crop up when people are typing in a hurry. If millions of people are visiting a website and even a small fraction make mistakes when they manually enter domain names, a typosquatter can profit. Typosquatters can buy domains with transposed letters, missing letters, or extra letters, like wiesgeek.com, wisgek.com, or wisege4ek.com.
There are a number of things that a typosquatter can do with a domain. One option is to simply use the site as a redirect to the original domain, a trick used by some companies that buy some common misspellings of their domain names to cover their bases. Another option is to turn the domain into a link or ad farm, hoping that visitors will click on the contents and generate profits. Some creative typosquatters have used their misspelled domains for the purpose of political commentary or satire directed at the owner of the properly spelled domain.
A more problematic practice occurs when typosquatters attempt to fool visitors. The typosquatting site may be designed to look a lot like the site the user intended to reach, tricking the user into thinking that he or she has landed in the right spot. Users might turn over confidential information, expose themselves to malware, or otherwise endanger themselves. Some typosquatters have targeted children with their websites by purchasing variations on domains commonly used by children, a practice that concerns law enforcement.
Under the law, typosquatting is not necessarily illegal, although it can potentially be prosecuted under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act of 1999 in the United States. If a typosquatter is clearly using a domain name for fraudulent or misleading purposes, the site can be viewed as a violation of the law. However, sites that simply take advantage of a misspelling to send a political message or even to serve ads are not necessarily illegal. While some companies are aggressive about typosquatting, the myriad possible variations on a domain name means that typosquatters can give up the site in question and move on to another typo.
Another very common use of Typosquatting is in using them as spamtraps. Most of the major spam blacklists (Spamhaus, Trend, etc.) will use them in some form or other. The idea being that if someone is sending mail to a typo address, then there is no way the recipient can have confirmed they opted in to the list. They'd never have received the confirmation email.