Why Misspelling Wal-Mart Could Put Your Computer at Risk


NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Have you ever attempted to type in the address for your favorite website, only to have a slip of the finger send you to some unfamiliar corner of the Internet? If so, you could be putting your computer security at risk.

Web security firm Websense recently sounded the alarm about “typosquatting,” the practice of setting up a website with an address very similar to a more popular site, with the hope of getting accidental visitors. And as you might expect, those sites tend not to be run by reputable individuals.

“You may get to a page that looks just like your favorite retailer, but the site may then lead you to a phishing or other potentially harmful site that injects malware or infects your system with spyware,” the company explained in a statement. “Some sites are convincing enough to lead people to enter their credit card information.”

Websense’s analysis found more than 2,000 of such “typosquatted” sites, including many that could target holiday shoppers: Appple.com, for instance, or WallMatt.com, the latter of which triggered an “attack page” warning from my browser. And you don’t have to look far to find more: When we visited Goooogle.com, we were taken to a page designed to look like YouTube, but which actually asks you to fill out a survey to win a free iPad. (As an aside, you should probably avoid visiting any of the sites we’ve listed in this paragraph.)

So how can you avoid falling victim to one of these scams? The most obvious answer is to type more carefully, and if that’s not working, you might bookmark your favorite pages so you don’t have to retype the full Web address every time. You could also just go through a search engine like Google – that’s Google with two o’s – which will usually correct your terrible typing and take you to the right website.

And if you still manage to land on one of these shady sites, just use common sense. If something seems off about a website, double-check the URL before entering any personal or credit card information.

Oh, and if a site promises to give you a free iPad for taking a 30-second survey, it’s a fair bet that you’ve taken a wrong turn.

Matt Brownell is a staff reporter for MainStreet. You can reach him by email at matthew.brownell@thestreet.com, or follow him on Twitter @Brownellorama.

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