Domain impersonation techniques

A few days ago I was talking with one of my acquaintances and he told me he has recently been the victim of a phishing attack. Luckily, he realised just after introduce his data in a bogus form something was not right, he could contact his service provider company and fix the problem without too many headaches.

During the conversation he showed me the message he received with the link he clicked on and, I was quick to notice it was a fake message. It was just an SMS message, not enough text to check as it can be done in an email but, the link was obviously (to me) a fake one.

From other conversations I have had with him in the past, I know he has some basic knowledge and security awareness, especially because his company make them do some basic training about it, which is very good, but when discussing with him, I realised he had never heard about the term domain impersonation and, other than a basic comment about checking links before you click them he was never given any examples of what to look for.

Trying to put my grain of salt out there to raise awareness, we are going to review quickly a few of the most common techniques and try to learn a bit more by example.

Let’s say we have a service provider that offers its services through a web page hosted on telecomexample.org. This will be our starting address, the real and original one. Now, let’s see what kind of techniques we can apply to mislead and trick unfortunate users.

Omission

This technique consists into skip one character on the original address. For example, telecmexample.org. As we can see, the example is omitting an “o“. The longer the address is, the easier is to miss that.

Typosquad: Substitution

This technique consists of replacing a character with a similar one. For example, telecomexemple.org. As we can see, we are replacing the “a” with an “e“. Other common replacement are: “i -> 1” or “i -> l“.

Homoglyph

This technique consists of replacing a character with another similar-looking character from a different alphabet. Usually from Latin, Greek or Cyrillic. For example, teʟecomexample.org. In this case, we have replaced the “l“.

Addition

This technique consists of adding an extra character to the address. For example, tellecomexample.org. Reading it carefully, we can see an extra “l” has been added.

Transposition

This technique just alters the order of one or more characters on the address. For example, telecomxeample.org. In this case, we have swapped the “e” and the “x“.

Homophone

This technique uses similar-sounding words such as “narrows” and “narroughs“. Like, telecomsample.org. Where the word “example” has been replaced by the similar-sounding word “sample“. Note: Probably there are better examples, but given the address domain, and not being a native speaker, it is hard, feel free to comment with better suggestions.

Subdomain

The service provider domain is used as a subdomain for a domain owned by the attackers. Such as telecomexample.accounts.org. Where the attacker owns the domain “accounts.org“.

TLD swap

Using the service provider domain but with a different top-level domain. For example, telecomexample.com. Where the top-level domain COM is used instead of the real one ORG.

Hyphenation

Adding an intermediate hyphen to the domain. Like, telecom-example.org. Where a hyphen has been added between the words “telecom” and “example“.

Added keywords

In this case, an extra word is added to the original domain trogon to mislead users. For example, telecomexamplelogin.org. Where the word “login” has been added to the original domain.

Today, just a short article but, I hope it helps to raise some awareness about very common impersonation domain techniques used by attackers to deceive users.se

Domain impersonation techniques

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