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Omitting the “o” in .com Could Be Costly PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 10 April 2018 08:31


Take care when typing a domain name into a browser address bar, because it’s far too easy to fat-finger a key and wind up somewhere you don’t want to go. For example, if you try to visit some of the most popular destinations on the Web but omit the “o” in .com (and type .cm instead), there’s a good chance your browser will be bombarded with malware alerts and other misleading messages — potentially even causing your computer to lock up completely. As it happens, many of these domains appear tied to a marketing company whose CEO is a convicted felon and once self-proclaimed “Spam King.” Security experts Brian Krebs of Krebsonsecurity filled us in on this seemingly innocent issue that can cause you some huge headaches!

Matthew Chambers is a senior security adviser at SecureWorks, an Atlanta-based firm that helps companies defend against and respond to cyberattacks. Earlier this month Chambers penned a post on his personal blog detailing what he found after several users he looks after accidentally mistyped different domains — such as espn[dot]cm.

Chambers said the user who visited that domain told him that after typing in espn.com he quickly had his computer screen filled with alerts about malware and countless other pop-ups. Security logs for that user’s system revealed the user had actually typed espn[dot]cm, but when Chambers reviewed the source code at that Web page he found an innocuous placeholder content page instead.

“One thing we notice is that any links generated off these domains tend to only work one time, if you try to revisit it’s a 404,” Chambers wrote, referring to the standard 404 message displayed in the browser when a Web page is not found. “The file is deleted to prevent researchers from trying to grab it, or automatic scanners from downloading it. Also, some of the exploit code on these sites will randomly vaporize, and they will have no code on them, but were just being weaponized in campaigns. It could be the user agent, or some other factor, but they definitely go dormant for periods of time.”

Espn[dot]cm is one of more than a thousand so-called “typosquatting” domains hosted on the same Internet address (85.25.199.30), including aetna[dot]cm, aol[dot]cm, box[dot]cm, chase[dot]cm, citicards[dot]cm, costco[dot]cm, facebook[dot]cm, geico[dot]cm, hulu[dot]cm, itunes[dot]cm, pnc[dot]cm, slate[dot]cm, suntrust[dot]cm, turbotax[dot]cm, and walmart[dot]cm.

KrebsOnSecurity sought to dig a bit deeper into Chambers’ findings, researching some of the domain registration records tied to the list of dot-cm typosquatting domains. Helpfully, all of the domains currently redirect visitors to just one of two landing pages — either antistrophebail[dot]com or chillcardiac[dot]com.

For the moment, if one visits either of these domains directly via a desktop Web browser (I’d advise against this) chances are the site will display a message saying, “Sorry, we currently have no promotions available right now.” Browsing some of them with a mobile device sometimes leads to a page urging the visitor to complete a “short survey” in exchange for “a chance to get an gift [sic] cards, coupons and other amazing deals!”

Media Breakaway is headed by Scott Richter, a convicted felon who’s been successfully sued for spamming by some of the biggest media companies over the years.

In 2003, New York’s attorney general sued Richter and his former company OptInRealBig[dot]com after an investigation by Microsoft found his company was the source of hundreds of millions of spam emails daily touting dubious products and services. OptInRealBig later declared bankruptcy in the face of a $500 million judgment against the company. At the time, anti-spam group Spamhaus listed Richter as the world’s third most prolific spammer worldwide. According to the contracts that ICANN requires all registrars to sign, registrars may not have anyone as an officer of the company who has been convicted of a criminal offense involving financial activities. While Richter’s spam offenses all involve civil matters, KrebsOnSecurity discovered several years ago that Richter had actually pleaded guilty in 2003 to a felony grand larceny charge.

If your security or antivirus software allows you to block all Web sites in a given top-level domain, it might not be a bad idea to block anything coming out of dot-cm (the country code top-level domain for Cameroon.