McAfee: Gaming, Airlines Sites Most Likely Typo-Squatter Targets
Such sites are often packed with text and display ads--and are typically a source of bad clicks and rising costs for advertisers.
Typo-squatters are loosely defined as companies or individuals that register a misspelled domain name (like iophne.com instead of iphone.com) in the hopes of generating a profit. For the study, McAfee focused on typo-squatting sites that featured pay-per-click ads, but typo-squatters can also profit from display and video ads, the collection and sale of visitor information, and even by serving malicious programs to visitors.
The software security giant found that gaming, airlines and mainstream media were the industry categories most saturated with typo-squatters. When it came to gaming sites, users who mistyped a URL would likely end up on a typo-squatter's page 14% of the time. Airline and mainstream media sites were neck-and-neck for the second-most saturated categories, at about 11% each.
Shane Keats, a McAfee research analyst, said the saturation in those categories was not surprising. "Typo-squatters are in it to make money, so they set up shop wherever the most consumers are and what's hot at the moment," Keats said. "Gaming is hot, and the young gamer demographic probably misspells URLs more often than not."
He added that with airline sites, typo-squatters sought to capitalize on the "shopping state of mind" that often accompanied searches for flight or vacation info.
McAfee included more than 2700 branded sites in the study, and used data from sources like Yahoo, Nielsen, Hitwise, Google and Billboard, in addition to info from its own Site Advisor product, to come up with a set of "popular sites that everyone would visit," Keats said. The goal was to mimic average user behaviors.
The research team generated multiple misspellings of the URLs, from swapping and omitting letters to removing the "dot" (i.e., wwwmicrosoft.com), and came up with nearly two million possible sites. And after visiting each of these sites, McAfee determined that the industry average for typo-squatting was 7.2%, with a 22% average for the top 100 sites.
Keats said that industry research and McAfee's findings show that the problem has multiple sources, from the widespread practice of domain-name "tasting," to the fact that programs like Google's AdSense make it easy for typo-squatters to set up on-site ads.
Domain registration companies like Sedo and GoDaddy often give site buyers a five-day grace period to test out a site without paying for the registration. Typo-squatters can then set up multiple sites using automatic registration, run them, and see which ones snag the most traffic--then cancel the laggards before the grace period is over. Information (29%) and Hitfarm (11%) were the top two domain registration companies that facilitated typo-squatting, as determined by the percentage of squatters parked by them.
Meanwhile, McAfee's research found that Google-enabled ads showed up on 19% of all the suspected typo-squatter sites in the study, and Yahoo-enabled ads appeared on 4%.