Online Brand Abuse Escalates in 2008

Online brands can fall prey to abuse in the form of cybersquatting (define), phishing (define), and other forms of offenses that can be harmful to brands. A report, “Brandjacking Index: 2008 — The Year in Review,” released today by MarkMonitor, finds brand abuse grew across several verticals.

Cybersquatting, the practice of acquiring a Web address or domain name that infringes on the trademark of another business, rose 18 percent in 2008 to a total 440,584 instances identified in Q4, though no specific examples were disclosed. In 2007 cybersquatting rose 33 percent, including more than 380,000 exploits observed by MarkMonitor during the final three months of that year. “The reason cybersquatting is the vector of choice is that it helps you optimize for search engine optimization,” said Frederick Felman, chief marketing officer at MarkMonitor.

Of the abusive sites identified in 2008, over 80 percent were first detected during early 2007. The remainder of sites was established since then.

While cybersquatting remained the top abuse, other methods were popular, too. False association, such as a case of typosquatting where a brandjacker uses a misspelling of a brand name as a URL or a similar name to a brand, occurred 86,837 times, and there were 33,614 instances of pay-per-click abuse.

Abuses continued across industry verticals such as apparel, automotive, high tech, and media. Each vertical saw a year-over-year increase except for consumer package goods and financial.

  • Apparel: 28 percent
  • Automotive: 21 percent
  • Consumer electronics: 2 percent
  • Consumer package goods: -9 percent
  • Financial: -6 percent
  • Food beverage: 17 percent
  • High tech: 21 percent
  • Luxury: Not available
  • Media: 11 percent
  • For financial institutions, domain-name abuse declined while phishing attempts increased, especially during the third quarter of 2008. “Phishers started going nuts,” Felman said, referring to the three months from July through September 2008.

    Social networks are now in the crosshairs of brandjackers. “We’re seeing Twitter and the social network space being targeted,” said Felman. The category is being attacked on an international scale, with an observed 442 organizations engaged in phishing on social networks. “In total the attacks look small,” Felman said. “Those organizations were phished for the first time in 2008. It’s a big deal.”

    While financial companies are prepared for dealing with phishing attacks, he said small social networks are not. “Their systems go down, their revenues go down, ” Felman said.

    The Brandjacking Index is based on analysis of brand abuse and phishing of 134 million domain names, billions of Web pages searched, and 60 million spam e-mails. Data sources used include tracking 30 brands from Interbrand Best Global Brands, weekly sampling throughout 2008, and over 450,000 abuse results weekly. No MarkMonitor customer data were used in the study.

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