What Is Cybersquatting, and Why Do People Do It?

With the Internet being a focal point in our lifestyles, it’s crucial for businesses to create professional-looking sites. This includes the URL address which acts as the first point of access to an online home. Unfortunately, cybersquatters also understand the value of a URL. When a cybersquatter acts quicker than a business, they can prove to be a real nuisance.

What Is Cybersquatting?

In order to understand cybersquatting, let’s look at an example. Let’s say an upcoming movie studio is excited to release its first movie, Westgrove High. Their marketing campaign includes a website which people can visit for details. The obvious name for this site would be www.westgrovehigh.com.

Ideally, the company would reserve that URL before announcing the film. However, should the studio announce the film before registering the domain, they might find it has been bought up even though they checked the availability before announcing the movie. There’s a lot of reasons why the URL vanished, but a prime suspect would be a cybersquatter buying out the domain before the studio could.

Why Would People Do That?


It may seem childish to register a URL before a company can, but the truth is far worse than a simple prank. Professional cybersquatters steal URLs for one reason – money.

If a company has been denied their preferred URL, they have two choices. The first is to buy a different URL and hope users don’t try to visit the cybersquatter’s site. People hearing of Westgrove High may try “www.westgrovehigh.com” to find more information, only to be met with whatever site the cybersquatter has put up instead.

The second path is to try to deal with the cybersquatter themselves. This is where cybersquatting pays off. If the company is desperate enough for the URL, the squatter can name a price and force the company to dig into their pockets. This makes cybersquatting a potentially profitable venture.

Other Forms of Cybersquatting


Cybersquatting can come in different forms. Let’s say the Westgrove High studio manages to buy the .com domain. Cybersquatters may move in to register the same URL on different domains, such as .co.uk, .fr, or .ca, in case the studio tries to market their movie in another country. When new domain names were introduced in 2014, cybersquatters were faster to the punch than the actual businesses!

In a similar vein to cybersquatting, “typosquatting” snatches up URLs that might result from a user making a mistake in the URL (such as “www.westgroovehigh.com” or “www.westgrovehi.com”). Businesses are interested in catching these cases to better redirect users to their site. Typosquatters snatch these up in hopes that the business will want to cover for any mistakes people might make in the URL.

Is Cybersquatting Legal?


Fortunately, some countries have branded cybersquatting as illegal. For example, businesses in the US can sue under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) or work through ICANN in order to fight for a domain. Unfortunately, the legal processes for claiming a URL can be expensive. A smart cybersquatter will understand this and offer a price that’s much more affordable than going to court. This encourages the business to pay up instead of fighting the cybersquatter.

What Cybersquatting Is Not

When someone takes a URL that a business wants, it’s not always cybersquatting. In order for it to be a cybersquatting case, it has to be clear that the person claiming the URL did so out of bad faith. If it wasn’t, it’s not cybersquatting.

For instance, in the above example, the URL might have been taken by a school called “Westgrove High”. It might be taken by someone selling their own book or video game called “Westgrove High”. It might even be someone who took the URL to host their fansite for the studio’s movie.

In these cases this isn’t cybersquatting, as the owners bought it with good intent. The studio would have to negotiate with the current owners to see if they’ll surrender the URL. This is usually done by trying to strike a deal with the current owner to get the URL.

Stopping Squatters

While seemingly a childish prank, cybersquatting can be very profitable. Now you know what it is, why it’s done, and what businesses can do to reclaim their URL.

Have you, or anyone you know, ever been hit by a cybersquatter? Let us know below!

Simon Batt
Simon Batt

Simon Batt is a Computer Science graduate with a passion for cybersecurity.

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