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2009 September 21 - 12:00 am

TECHNOLOGY TODAY: Despite Decade-Long Ban, Cybersquatting Is Alive and Well

In addition to the tremendous amount of good that it has created, the Internet has also created its fair share of bad, along with those only too eager to cross the line and take unethical or unlawful advantage of others.

One of the more curious examples of Internet misbehavior this year celebrated its ten-year anniversary of being officially recognized. Cybersquatting, the using of a “domain name” for a website that rightfully belongs to someone else, was made illegal by the 1999 Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.

A domain name is a website’s address expressed in an individual and memorable way, typically using words or names, such as “yourname.com.” Companies and other organizations often use their trademarked name in their website’s domain name.

Cybersquatters register domain names in hope of forcing a company or individual to buy it from them (at a huge profit), to gain online advertising revenue resulting from Web surfers mistakenly going to a fake site instead of a genuine one, and even as a “phishing” tool to trick surfers into revealing credit card and other personal financial information in order to steal from them.

Some of the findings of a new study about cybercrime in general by Symantec, maker of Internet security software, are startling:

Cybercrime has been roughly doubling each year since 2003, with roughly one in five people online having been victimized in some way.

Those behind cybercrime, typically, are no longer teenage hackers using their skills for mischief but career criminals along the lines of the Mafia.

Cybercriminals are primarily after your money. One-third of items advertised on the Internet black market is stolen credit card information, which sell for anywhere between six cents and $30 per card, depending on how much information is included. Bank account information accounts for one fifth of Internet black market items advertised.

For those victimized by identity theft such as stolen credit card information, the time needed to rectify matters averages 58 hours.

Reports like these, issued by those selling protective products, tend to emphasize worst-case scenarios. Instead of being a time-sapping hassle, recovering from the theft of credit card information may simply involve getting issued a new credit card and updating your information with any online vendors and payment services you use.

Still, being a savvy consumer means being aware of the potential downside; using up-to-date Internet security software; keeping your operating system, web browser, and other programs up to date; and knowing the security threats that are out there.

Despite being outlawed ten years ago, cybersquatting unfortunately is still alive and well. The numbers, in fact, can seem astronomical. The telecommunications and broadband company Verizon Communications has had to shut down thousands of sites using domain names that were related to its businesses.

Because of numbers like this, it can take awhile for a brand owner to find and go after bogus sites, according to a recent study by MarkMonitor (www.markmonitor.com), a domain registrar that also monitors domain-name abuse for corporate clients. The study found that 80 percent of abusive sites identified in 2007 were still active more than a year later.

Along with well-known companies such as Verizon and Microsoft, another frequent target of cybersquatters are celebrities such as rock star Bruce Springsteen and actor Kevin Spacey. But anybody can become a victim.

Companies and individuals can monitor the web themselves for instances of cybersquatting. At the simplest, use Google to search for relevant terms. DomainTools (www.domaintools.com) lets you do various kinds of more specialized searches related to domain names. At the high end, “cyber intelligence” firms such as Cyveillance (www.cyveillance.com) charge $5,000 to $10,000 per year to monitor the web for domain-name abuse.

Various remedial actions are available
as well. Least expensively, you can
file a complaint with a dispute-resolution service offered by such groups as the
World Intellectual Property Organi
zation’s Arbitration and Mediation Center (www.wipo.int/amc/en) or the National Arbitration Forum’s Domain Name Disputes (domains.adrforum.com).

Alternately, you could hire a lawyer, with law firms such The GigaLaw Firm (www.gigalawfirm.com) specializing in this and related intellectual property and technology issues.

As a web surfer, to avoid winding up at a cybersquatting site, the most comprehensive action is to use one of the Internet security suites and to keep it up to date. Internet security suites from companies such as Symantec (www.symantec.com) and McAfee (www.mcafee.com) do a good job of warning you when you’re about to visit a site that may be out to get you.

Comments: editor@ccweek.com

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgold@comcast.net.

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