Microsoft tool hunts down typo squatters

Aims to help surfers and businesses avoid the pain of pop-ups and porn redirects from mistyped URLs.

A new tool from Microsoft aims to take some of the annoyance--and risk--out of mistyping a URL when browsing Web sites.

The company's Cybersecurity and Systems Management group released a prototype of Strider URL Tracer with Typo-Patrol version last week. The tool is designed to seek out and block mistyped versions of domain names--www.frod.com instead of www.ford.com, for example.

Typo squatters are companies that exploit slips of the fingers by registering for mistyped versions of popular URLs. Some typo domains are parking lots for pay-per-click and syndicated advertising, according to a Microsoft research paper published alongside the tool. The group's researchers found that a mere six services have a presence on between 40 and 70 percent of active typo domains.

In addition to serving up ad links, typo squatters deliver pop-ups and pop-unders, and can redirect surfers to the intended domain. Often, the users are never even aware that they have visited a third-party site. As a result, many legitimate companies have been blamed for pop-ups advertising porn.

On top of this, companies may end up paying out for the advertising that leads customers to sites they were already aware of and trying to reach.

Consumers can be at risk with typo domains. Some are used in phishing scams, which mimic the look and layout of legitimate online businesses in an effort to dupe people out of personal information such as bank passwords.

Others use wrongly typed URLs for popular children's Web sites to lead surfers to porn sites, or to sites looking to exploit children.

The Microsoft research team described common mistakes people make when typing in a URL: missing dots (Newscom), transposition (Nwes.com), suffix replacement (News.net,) character omission (New.com), character insertion (Newws.com) and character replacement (Newz.com).

Strider URL Tracer alerts people when they are redirected to a third-party site, according to a description on Microsoft's research Web site. It can trace pop-up advertising back to the redirecting domains that supplied them. Parents can use it to block domains that may redirect their children to porn. Companies can use it to monitor for trademark infringement or fraud.

The software is free to download from Microsoft's Strider URL Tracer site. Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6 are required for it to work.

The tool works by accessing a bank of information on typo domains from Strider Typo-Patrol, a network of 17 machines run out of Microsoft's Cybersecurity and Systems Management group. The network generates anticipated typos of popular domain names, then scans the Internet for these typo-domains. If they are active, it adds them to the database.

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