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What Is A Lookalike Domain Name?

April 9, 2020

Lookalike domains have been a problem for a long time and given the current situation, it's particularly important to be aware of them.

Lookalike or "cousin" domain names are addresses that use character replacement  to make them look as close as possible to the domain of a brand, service or government authority.

For example, characters in a domain name such as  an ā€œIā€ can be replaced with a ā€œ1ā€, or the letter l with the number 1.

These names are most often registered by third-parties up to mischief. You can imagine why this practice is problematic and the issues it can cause. While close inspection of a domain name will often reveal the issue, a cursory glance might overlook it. But even with a closer inspection, some lookalike domains can be quite hard to pick.

Some also include misspellings in the definition of lookalike domains.

This is why it's important to not only be careful about what you click on, but also what appears in your browser address bar once you've clicked on a link as a double-check. It's also another good reason to not click on links sent by people you don't know. Even links from those you do know should be scrutinised, as not everyone is savvy to these things.

In November last year in the leadup to the holiday shopping season, ThreatPost reported 100,000 malicious lookalike domains mimicking legitimate retailers. Scammers and phishers tend to leverage major events to carry out their activities and the situation with COVID-19 is no different. All sorts of scams are under way and lookalike domains are no doubt among them.

These lookalike domains aren't necessarily targeting COVID-19 related information or services directly, but also services that have increased in popularity as a result of more people being confined to their homes. For example, we mentioned last week an online security firm had been noticing a significant spike in registrations of domain names relating to a popular video conferencing service. 

For further information on staying safe online and to review alerts of scams generally, the Federal Government's ScamWatch initiative is a good resource. The service is run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and provides information to consumers and small businesses on recognising, avoiding and reporting scams.

Stay safe out there - including in cyberspace.

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