Page last updated at 08:29 GMT, Monday, 9 March 2009

Online brand abuse 'on the rise'

Computer keyboard
The report says cyber-squatting is the most common form of brand abuse

Online abuse of the world's top brands is rising, according to a report.

Cyber-squatting - in which someone registers a domain name with the aim of selling it on at a later date - remains the most common form of abuse.

Cyber-squatting rose by 18% in 2008, to 1,722,133 reported incidents, according to brand specialist MarkMonitor.

The study also found that 80% of sites identified in 2007 as "abusive" were still in existence today.

The report suggests that brand owners need to take a more aggressive stance against people or companies abusing a trademark, brand or domain name.

"That 80% of sites identified in our study last year remain active today confirms that abuse is economically sustainable for fraudsters," said Frederick Felman, chief marketing officer for MarkMonitor.

"We expect attacks to grow both internationally and in complexity, further increasing the threat to organisations' reputations and revenues."

The only thing you can do is be vigilant
Eddy Willems
Kaspersky Lab

Other brand abuses include phishing attacks, a technique used to extract private information such as credit card details.

MarkMonitor says instances of phishing against payment services rose by 122% in the second half of 2008, while financial services attacks rose by 51% in the same period - a rise MarkMonitor attributes to the current economic crisis.

Another problem facing legitimate firms is the practice of false association. This is when a domain name - with similar, but not identical wording to a popular website - is registered (and often made to look like) the legitimate site in order to direct unsuspecting users to bogus or offensive pages.

Eddy Willems, security analyst for anti-virus firm Kaspersky Lab, said fraudsters were out to trap the unwary.

"They [the fraudsters] know users will mistype. They look out for domains that they can use to trick people.

"The only thing you can do is be vigilant, and make sure you have security protection installed on your computer."

Attacks against auction sites and retail/services have declined, but new victims of brand hijacking are emerging within social networking and online gaming sites.

The report says that the majority of illegal sites involved in so-called "brandjacking" are hosted in the United States, Germany and the UK.

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