In a perfect world, DMARC could have been the ultimate solution to email security, but with DMARC and lookalike domains entering the picture, navigating cybersecurity threats has become more challenging than ever.
With an increasing reliance on email communication in the business world and new cloud-based services coming to the forefront, emails have become the primary vector that attackers target. While most businesses do implement email authentication protocols to mitigate the risk of these attacks, impersonation attacks like domain lookalikes might escape their purview.
This article will examine the risks associated with DMARC and lookalike domains and explore other ways to protect your customers against lookalike domain attacks.
What is a Lookalike Domain?
To execute their malicious objectives, cyberattackers often use impersonation tactics such as look-alike domains to trick their targets into believing that the email is coming from a legitimate source. While there is a wide range of impersonation attack techniques that these attackers employ to bypass the security structures of businesses, lookalike domains, also known as cousin domains or doppelgänger domains, top the charts.
Lookalike domains are domains that are intentionally created to resemble a legitimate domain closely but have slight alteration, which is hardly noticeable until looked upon very closely. For example, as a strategic deception technique, lookalike domains often contain typographical variations, such as replacing the letter “I” with the numeric digit “1”, repositioning or repeating, or simply adding symbols or words.
Additionally, scammers swap TLDs (top-level domains) wherein .com of the authentic domain is replaced with .net or vice versa to dupe the receivers and evade detection.
So, by making the “From” address look similar to the impersonated brand’s domain, the phisher attempts to lure the targeted users into providing sensitive information such as login credentials, financial details, or personal information.
Examples of Lookalike Domains
To give you a better understanding of how these lookalike domains manifest themselves in the digital realm, here are some examples of these domains:
- Facebook.com- faceb00k.com or faceboook.com
- Netflix.com- netfliix.com or netflix-login.com
- Microsoft.com- rnicrosoft.com or rnicrosoftstore.com
- Apple.com- App!e.org
Why are Lookalike Domains Dangerous?
Unsurprisingly, lookalike domains have become a significant threat to individuals and organizations, as cybercriminals often employ them to carry out illegal actions such as phishing, identity theft, and fraud. The issue is that these spoofs can be difficult to differentiate from legitimate ones, and naive users may unknowingly fall victim to their tactics.
Some of the most common risks associated with lookalike domains include the following:
Cybersquatting is a form of cybercrime where the perpetrator registers or uses a domain name that is identical or similar to a trademarked name or brand name with the intent to leverage the brand owner’s intellectual property. Often these attackers procure domains for cheap and later demand an exorbitant price to hand them over. The Schweppes case is an example of cybersquatting where a cybersquatter registered Schweppes.ca intending to sell it for profit.
Typosquatting is a form of cybersquatting that entails registering a domain name containing a misspelling or a typographical error of a legitimate brand or website name. The typosquatter website is designed to mimic the original site, with the ultimate goal of tricking unsuspecting users into visiting the fraudulent site and generating revenue through illegal means.
According to U.S. Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, in 2013, Facebook was the first big company to win liability damages for lawsuits against typosquatters and gained control of more than 100 domains. The company earned a hefty payout of almost $2.8 million against these misspelled domains, which included dacebook.com, facebokook.com, and faceboocklogin.com, among others.
Gripe sites are websites created to air grievances, criticize or complain about individuals, companies, organizations, or products. They are made by dissatisfied customers, disgruntled employees, or activists who use the internet to express their opinions and share negative experiences. These sites can be used as a platform to spread false or defamatory information about a company or individual, damaging their reputation or leading to financial losses.
Lookalike Domain Spoofing
Lookalike domain spoofing is a type of cyber attack where a malicious actor creates a fake email domain that closely resembles a legitimate one. The idea is to trick email recipients into thinking they are receiving an email from a real sender, when in fact the email is sent from a fraudulent domain.
The attacker typically creates an email domain with a similar name to the original domain, with minor differences that are not easily noticeable. For example, they might create an email domain with a name that is very similar to the real one, such as “microsof.com” instead of “microsoft.com”.
The goal of lookalike domain spoofing is to steal sensitive information from email recipients, such as login credentials, credit card numbers, and other personal information. The attackers can then use this information to commit identity theft or financial fraud.
Is DMARC Enough To Protect Your Customers Against Lookalike Domain Attacks?
Considering how cyberattacks have evolved to become more sophisticated, it is safe to say that the standard email authentication protocols cannot withstand the blow of these attacks. Despite being a comprehensive tool, the effectiveness of DMARC against lookalike domains is often compromised. To prevent email-based brand impersonation, companies need to go the extra mile than just employing DMARC, as lookalike domain spoofs often circumvent its scope.
This is because implementing DMARC across all domains in a brand’s portfolio can be challenging, particularly for large businesses with multiple departments, divisions, and partners that send emails on their behalf. Besides, since domain owners must specify which email servers are authorized to send messages on behalf of their domain, this process can be complicated when managing multiple domains.
While many businesses register numerous “defensive domains,” it is not a foolproof way to keep these attacks at bay because securing infinite domain possibilities is simply impossible.
Related Read: Which attacks does DMARC not protect you from?
Cyberattacks DMARC Does Protect Against
DMARC is a comprehensive tool that serves as a critical layer of protection against email fraud and other cyberattacks, allowing organizations to verify that incoming emails are coming from legitimate sources and have not been tampered with by a scammer. By implementing DMARC, companies can protect themselves and their customers from cyberattacks, maintain their reputation, and secure their digital assets.
Here are a few cyberattacks that DMARC does protect against:
Direct Domain Spoofing
DMARC helps protect against direct domain spoofing, where attackers send emails that appear to be from a legitimate domain. DMARC verifies that messages come from authorized servers, making it more difficult for attackers to spoof a domain and send fraudulent messages.
By verifying that emails are originating from legitimate sources, DMARC aids in preventing phishing attacks. This verification process helps to avoid situations where attackers deceive users into sharing sensitive information or downloading malicious software.
DMARC is an important defense against ransomware attacks as it helps to prevent your brand from being impersonated in phishing emails. By authenticating your emails against SPF and DKIM authentication standards, DMARC can filter malicious IP addresses, forgery, and domain impersonation.
Ways to Protect Your Customers Against Lookalike Domain Attacks
Now that we’re aware of the incapability of DMARC against lookalike domains, businesses must implement simple yet important techniques to safeguard their reputation and customer trust.
Here’s how you can protect your business from lookalike domains attacks:
Buy Website Domains
To protect against these attacks, businesses can consider purchasing major domain names such as those with top-level domains (.com, .net, .org, .ca, .io, etc.) to make it harder for attackers to create fake domains.
Enabling two-factor authentication is crucial for email, banking, and websites containing client data. It adds an extra layer of protection in case someone accidentally enters login details on a fake domain, preventing hackers from gaining access to the account.
It is important to educate your team on various cyberattacks and their prevention techniques, such as DMARC and lookalike domains. When they’re well-informed about potential threats, they will be more vigilant in identifying and reporting suspicious emails, strengthening your organization’s security posture.
In a Nutshell
While it is essential to implement DMARC, lookalike domain defenses are also crucial to mitigating phishing attacks and fully protecting the brand’s digital assets and image. At PowerDMARC, we offer comprehensive email authentication solutions, allowing you to secure the most important communication channel of your business. Need sound protection against impersonation? Contact us to leverage our services and learn more about DMARC and lookalike domain attacks.