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Be Wary Of Homograph Domain Names

April 18, 2012

As useful and essential as the Internet is, it's certainly not without its traps and pitfalls waiting to grab the unwary - an example is homograph domain names.

Generally speaking, the term homograph refers to words of the same spelling but with more than one meaning. A couple of examples include bat, can, extract - and even the word 'domain' might be considered a homograph.

However, when applied to domain names, the term homograph has been given a very different meaning. 

According to Greg Crowe, a staff writer covering technology for Government Computer News, a homograph domain name uses different characters to replace letters to produce a name that looks similar to spelling of another word. An example: "ba11"  - where two numerals replace the letter "l". 

So why would anyone register such names? While for some it could be just because they can; others may have darker purposes in mind. Homographic domain names are most commonly seen in phishing emails to entice the recipient to click on a link; believing it to be the site of a company or organisation they know. 

From there, the person may be directed to a site that looks exactly the same as the legitimate web site and may then part with sensitive personal details, such as login or other account information.

Greg Crowe points out since some letters in Cyrillic and Greek alphabets look the same as Latin characters, a fraudster could potentially register an international domain name that looks exactly like another registered name.

According to a Wikipedia entry on the topic of homographs in internationalised domain names ,the Cyrillic small letter a ("а"), can look identical to the Latin small letter a, ("a") which is the lowercase "a" used in English. Fonts in italic type will feature Greek alpha α looking like a Latin a.

While homograph domain names are often easy to spot, it can depend on the font being used. 

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