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Bitsquatting And Domain Names

August 6, 2011

Domain name owners have enough to worry about with parties engaged in cybersquatting* and typosquatting**, but now a new threat has emerged - bitsquatting.

According to Artem Dinaburg,  a security researcher at Raytheon; computer software or  hardware quality control issues, excessive heat and even radiation resulting from solar flares can result in components "flipping bits" - a situation resulting in an incorrect process or request for information, such as when a browser requests a particular web site.

When it comes to domain names, this issue could see a computer user clicking a link or typing in a domain name and being sent to another web site due to a single character in the domain name being changed, or "flipped".

An example recently demonstrated at a major security conference, Defcon 19, showed a situation where a request for could become under "flipped bit" conditions. As only certain characters can be exchanged, it is possible to predict what characters are most likely to change and what they will be changed to - opening the door to parties with sinister intentions being able to register domain names for the purposes of scooping up wayward traffic.

Mr. Dinaburg  says he has been able to "bitsquat" a number of popular domain names and believes bit-flip errors are "practical and serious, and should be addressed by software and hardware vendors."

*Cybersquatting is where a domain name that infringe on trademarks or causes confusion in "bad faith" is purposely registered by an unauthorised party for commercial gain. Cybersquatters may also register a brand name or trademark belonging to another party for the purposes of casting that brand in a poor light.  Learn more about cybersquatting.

**Typosquatting is a form of cybersquatting.  Typosquatters register domain names that are misspellings of a brand or business, taking advantage of the fact that people commonly enter an incorrectly spelled domain name into their browsers. Learn more about typosquatting.

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