Domain Name Hijacking, Reverse Hijacking, And What To Do If Your Domain Name Is Stolen

Michael Gargiulo - CEO, VPN.com

By: Michael Gargiulo, CEO at VPN.com

Updated: 4:47 PM ET Mon, May 24th 2021

Keyboard with enter key that reads, 'DOMAIN HIJACKING'
Good domain names are always valuable assets, with many selling for thousands or even millions of dollars. This alone is a sufficient reason for malicious actors to target domain names for attack, and often motivates domain name theft. However, domain hijacking is especially appealing to hackers when the website is highly valuable to the owner. In this case, they may exploit the importance of the domain name to blackmail the legitimate owner. As a webmaster, it’s essential that you understand the threats that target your domain names and understand how to protect yourself from them. Most attacks fall under one of two umbrellas, domain name hijacking and reverse domain name hijacking.

What Is Domain Hijacking?

Domain hijacking is any case of someone stealing a domain name that someone else is the rightful owner of. In general, hijacking occurs as a result of a malicious actor exploiting a vulnerability such as weak passwords and email leaks. However, targeted attacks are also on the rise, as the domain names of eCommerce operations, financial institutions, and other businesses are particularly fruitful targets. The first step in protecting yourself from domain theft is understanding how you can come to be a victim of it, and taking preventative steps.

How Domain Hijacking Occurs

The how of domain hijacking is fairly complex, as both domain name owners and registrars can make mistakes that enable attacks. Some methods of theft explicitly target the registrar, while others aim at gaining access to your network.

Identity Fraud

Small or third-party registrars can have vulnerable systems for data protection. One way that an attacker may exploit this is by tricking the registrar into believing that they are the rightful owner, and simply forgot their password or login information. Think about the security questions that some websites use for security purposes, such as the name of your first pet or your mother’s maiden name.

These sorts of questions in particular are easy to learn the answers to, and prospective thieves can easily learn them to infiltrate your account. It’s important to make sure you choose a registrar with adequate security measures and take your own security seriously.

Social Engineering Attacks

If you own one or more valuable domain names, then you’re a potential target for social engineering attacks. Today, encryption and website security are usually quite formidable, so malicious actors typically target the weak link; people. Everyone can make a mistake or be tricked from time to time, and this is what a domain hijacker will have in mind when applying techniques like phishing. Be wary of the most common or dangerous social engineering techniques to avoid having your login data stolen.

Email Hacking

If someone can access part of your login data, it’s likely that they’ll be able to access your registrant account and steal your domain names. A person might steal your email with social engineering techniques and use this to access the account, or they could steal your email in other ways.

In particular, it’s important to be aware of major email leaks and other risk factors that might compromise your information. Remain aware of major leaks among websites you use, such as the infamous Yahoo! data leaks. If you have any reason to believe that your passwords are insecure, immediately change the login information on all of your important accounts.

Illegitimate Domain Name Transfers

Once someone steals your domain name, they have many options at hand to complicate matters. It’s possible for them to cancel your account through the registrar you’ve used and take the domain name to a different company. In the worst cases, domain hijacking cases might involve the thief transferring your domain name to a domain name registrar overseas, outside the jurisdiction of your country.

Since IP and domain name law can vary from one nation to the other, this can rule out many methods of recourse. While ICAAN, the international body that governs domain names may still be able to help, your situation is much more difficult once someone has successfully stolen your IP.

The Risks Of Domain Name Hijacking

Like any valuable good, a hijacker might attempt to resell your domain name to make a quick profit. Likewise, they may seek to extort a ransom from you to get it back. However, there are many reasons that domain name hijacking is more dangerous than many forms of ordinary theft. A well-established, reputable domain name will generate traffic and profits for its owner every moment. As a result, every moment that a malicious actor holds onto your domain name is a moment that your brand suffers lasting damage. It’s even possible for the person who stole your domain name to use it to enrich themselves without selling it, or for them to covertly steal information without your awareness. Many of the unique risks of domain hijacking lay in the potential for thieves to redirect traffic from your website.

Phishing

Phishing is one of the most well-known methods of social engineering that hackers will use to steal information. It generally consists of making something, such as an email or a login page look legitimate when the page is actually fake. Then, the goal is to get people to input sensitive information on these fake pages, which will enable the malicious actor to steal and misuse it. In the context of domain name theft, phishing is even more dangerous than normal. Domain name phishing can cost your customers untold amounts of money and destroy the reputation of your business.

Domain name phishing consists of making a website that resembles the one they’ve stolen the domain name of. Then, when customers go to routinely access the website, they’ll head to a convincing fake that’s just waiting for them to input their data. It may result in the thieves stealing credit card information, passwords, and other valuable data from hundreds or thousands of people.

The reason that domain name phishing is especially dangerous is that the targets have virtually no way to avoid falling for it. When someone receives a phishing email, looking for details such as a correct domain name is key in identifying the scam and protecting yourself. When the domain name is correct and leads to a scam website, people will go about their normal online routines and become the principal victims of the scam. What’s even worse is that the thief will be able to use their position as the owner of the domain to encourage those who use the website to go online and update or change the information on their accounts.

Communications Theft

Once a hacker has taken over your domain, they’ll gain a vast level of control over your communication systems. Chat, email, and other forms of online communication will become subject to their whims. An actor who intends to cause chaos and damage your business might delete emails, disable certain forms of communication, or otherwise interfere with communication.

They’ll also be able to use your network for their own purposes, such as advertising a different business or product. Domain hijacking might result in a case of your network being exploited to send outbound spam, which may result in your company going on a blacklist and suffering reputation damage. However, it’s also possible that the interloper will simply sit back and read your communications. If a website traffics in any sort of valuable information, then this is a huge opportunity for theft.

Domain Name Takeover

Domain name hijacking isn’t always a complex, in-depth event with a broader scheme behind it. However, it doesn’t have to be such a type of attack for domain hijacking to have a disastrous result on your business. A hacker can exploit your domain name for their own profit in a manner as simple as accessing the domain control panels and transferring the domain name to a different website. In this case, your website will totally cease to receive any traffic. For an eCommerce business, for instance, this means a total loss of profits.

On the other hand, the attacker will be able to use your website to increase traffic to their own. Your customers will attempt to head to your website via its domain name, only to end up at some other page. This can result in your customers being tricked into falling for scams, or it can simply damage the reputation of your business. The earlier mention of eCommerce businesses was for a reason; this kind of enterprise has become a favorite target of hackers in recent years.

Reverse Domain Name Hijacking

Domain hijacking is a serious threat to any webmaster, but it’s important to keep reverse domain name hijacking in mind as well. However, that raises the question of what exactly this sort of attack is. First, it’s worth understanding that people also refer to reverse domain name hijacking as reverse cybersquatting, and to understand what cybersquatting is.

What Is Cybersquatting?

It’s easy to define cybersquatting, as the United States government has formally defined it in law. In accordance with the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, cybersquatting is essentially using a domain name to profiteer from another brand. This can look like someone registering a domain name that’s highly close to the one that you use while offering similar products and services. Once you understand cybersquatting, it’s easy to make the step to understanding reverse cybersquatting.

Reverse Cybersquatting

Reverse domain hijacking, or reverse cybersquatting, is essentially the act of someone unfairly charging you with cybersquatting. In general, the victim first becomes aware when a party contacts you and tries to claim that you’re guilty of cybersquatting. If they’re unable to get you to cede ownership of your property, then they’ll threaten to file a complaint to ICAAN and attempt to have the organization transfer your domain name to them. Reverse cybersquatting is particularly complicated because of the fact that a wrongful accusation isn’t necessarily bad faith and extortion, and the person may sincerely believe you’re infringing on their trademark. Bad faith is an essential component of the ICAAN definition of reverse cybersquatting;

“Using the UDRP in bad faith to attempt to deprive a registered domain-name holder of a domain name.”

UDRP case decisions are not legal decrees, but they do invoke the power that ICAAN holds to transfer domain names. In general, the greatest danger of reverse cybersquatting is that complacency may result in the other person winning the case. Even if you win, you still might end up spending a great deal of time and money on the case.

Protect Your Domain Names

Domain hijacking and reverse cybersquatting have similar means of defense. Maintaining robust, detailed documentation proving your right to ownership of the domain name will help you regain it via legal action or UDRP in either case. To avoid conventional hijacking, you can remain watchful and make sure that your accounts are secure and you don’t fall victim to social engineering or hacking attacks. While fending off a reverse hijacking case or while seeking to regain your domain name, it’s key to maintain documentation. There are many types of relevant documents you can use to build your case and prove that you’re the rightful owner.

Copies of registration records that show the history of you or your organization as the rightful registrant is the starting point. Every time you have a new registration record, you should make a copy of it. Billing records, email receipts, and other records that prove consistent ownership are also invaluable.

System logs, archives, and other records of the content you’ve published to your web domain are highly important if you want to prove that you’re the rightful owner of the domain name. Anything that proves a history of use, lease of rights to the domain, and your history and rights as the registrant can bolster your case.

My Domain Name Was Stolen. What Next?

Even if you’ve done everything right, your domain name might still be stolen. In this event, it’s ideal that you’ve prepared your documentation and know what to do. If you haven’t, the steps you should take remain largely the same.

Contact Your Registrar

First things first, contact your registrar and establish that the domain name has been stolen. The exact powers they have to help you vary based on the company, but it’s important to make it known you believe your domain name has been stolen. This will help establish your case as you move forward with legal action or file with UDRP.

Find A Good Domain Name Attorney

To pursue litigation and have your domain name returned to you, you’ll need a skilled attorney with relevant experience. Look into IP attorneys, trademark attorneys, and domain name attorneys in your area. Be sure to shop around and look for qualifications and fair pricing, but emphasize the urgency of your situation. An experienced attorney will be able to give you advice on the best way to proceed in your unique circumstances.

Seek A Court Order

While ICAAN will often handle the process of returning your domain name to you, a court order can help hasten the process. Likewise, a strong case as prepared by your attorney will improve the odds of having your domain name returned. Once you’ve fulfilled these steps, your odds of successfully regaining your domain name hinge on the overall strength of your case.

Get Help Recovering Your Stolen Domain Name

Your domain name is an extremely valuable asset that contains much of the work you put into building your brand. Here at VPN.com, consumer advocacy and IP rights are among our greatest concerns. If you need more guidance on domain names or want to find the perfect domain name, then VPN.com and our premium domain services are exactly what you’re looking for.

Worldwide Premium Domain Brokers

Helping you acquire premium domain names in any country you desire. Inquire today about our Global Brand Protection Program if you want to register your brand in EVERY country.

North America Domains

Country

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Canada
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United States

Domain
.bm
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Language
English
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Spanish
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Capital
Hamilton
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62,278
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56,770
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5,794
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Domain Extension
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.na
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.ng
.cg
.re
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Pop.
43,851,044
32,866,272
4,490
12,123,200
2,351,627
20,903,273
11,890,784
26,545,863
561,198
4,829,767
16,425,864
26,378,274
89,561,403
988,000
102,334,404
1,402,985
2,225,734
31,072,940
13,132,795
1,968,001
53,771,296
2,142,249
5,057,681
6,871,292
27,691,018
19,129,952
20,250,833
4,649,658
1,271,768
272,815
36,910,560
31,255,435
2,540,905
24,206,644
206,139,589
5,518,087
895,312
12,952,218
219,159
16,743,927
98,347
7,976,983
15,893,222
59,308,690
6,077
43,849,260
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18,383,955
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11,193,725

Asia Domains

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Domain
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.com.gu
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.jp
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.mv
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.ph
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.com.kr, .kr
.lk
.com.tw, .tw
.com.tj, .tj
.co.th
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Language
Pashto, Dari
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Capital
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Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte
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Dili
Ashgabat
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Pop.
38,928,346
2,963,243
10,139,177
164,689,383
771,608
3,000
437,479
16,718,965
1,439,323,776
1,843
3,989,167
168,775
7,496,981
1,380,004,385
273,523,615
126,476,461
18,776,707
6,524,195
7,275,560
649,335
32,365,999
540,544
3,278,290
54,409,800
29,136,808
1,626
220,892,340
5,101,414
109,581,078
5,850,342
51,269,185
21,413,249
23,816,775
9,537,645
69,799,978
1,318,445
6,031,200
33,469,203
97,338,579

Caribbean Domains

Country

Anguilla

Antigua
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Puerto Rico
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St. Vincent and the Grenadines
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U.S. Virgin Islands
Domain Extension
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.bb
.vg
.com.ky, .ky
.com.cw, .cw
.dm
.do
.gd
.gp
.ht
.com.jm
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.ms
.com.pr, .pr
.lc
.sx
.kn
.com.vc, .vc
.tt
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Language
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English
English
English
English
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English
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French
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Plymouth, Brades
San Juan
Castries
Philipsburg
Basseterre, Charlestown
Kingstown
Port of Spain
Cockburn Town
Charlotte Amalie
Pop.
15,003
97,929
106,766
393,244
287,375
30,231
65,722
164,093
71,986
10,847,910
112,523
400,124
11,402,528
2,961,167
375,265
4,992
2,860,853
183,627
42,876
53,199
110,940
1,399,488
38,717
104,425

Central America Domains

Country

Belize

Costa Rica
El Salvador
Guatemala
Honduras
Nicaragua
Panama
Domain
.bz
.cr
.com.sv, .sv
.com.gt, .gt
.hn
.com.ni, .ni
.pa
Language
English
Spanish
Spanish
Spanish
Spanish
Spanish
Spanish
Capital
Belmopan
San José
San Salvador
Guatemala City
Tegucigalpa
Managua
Panama City
Pop.
397,628
5,094,118
6,486,205
17,915,568
9,904,607
6,624,554
4,314,767

Europe Domains

Country

Aland Islands

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Isle of Man
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Netherlands
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Portugal
Romania
Russia
San Marino
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Spain
Sweden
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Domain Extension
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.dk
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.de
.gi
.com.gr, .gr
.gg
.hu
.is
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.im
.it
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.lv
.li
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.lu
.mk
.com.mt, .mt
.md
.mc
.me
.nl
.no
.com.pl, .pl
.pt
.ro
.com.ru, .ru
.sm
.co.rs, .rs
.sk
.si
.com.es, .es
.se
.ch
.com.ua, .ua
.co.uk, .uk
Language
Swedish
Albanian
English
German
Belarusian, Russian
Dutch, German, French
Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian
Bulgarian
Croatian
Greek, Turkish
Czech
Danish
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German
English
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English
Hungarian
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Italian
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French
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Dutch
Norwegian
Polish
Portuguese
Romanian
Russian
Italian
Serbian
Slovak
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Spanish
Swedish
German, Romansh, French, Italian
Ukrainian
English
Capital
Mariehamn
Tirana
Georgetown
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Prague
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Tallinn
Tórshavn
Helsinki
Paris
Berlin
Gibraltar
Athens
Saint Peter Port
Budapest
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Podgorica
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Warsaw
Lisbon
Bucharest
Moscow
San Marino
Belgrade
Bratislava
Ljubljana
Madrid
Stockholm
Bern
Kyiv
London
Pop.
29,900
2,877,797
7,915
9,006,398
9,449,323
11,589,623
3,280,819
6,948,445
4,105,267
1,207,359
10,708,981
5,792,202
1,326,535
52,934
5,540,720
65,273,511
83,783,942
33,691
10,423,054
63,000
9,660,351
341,243
4,937,786
85,033
60,461,826
173,863
1,886,198
38,128
2,722,289
625,978
2,083,374
441,543
4,033,963
39,242
628,066
17,134,872
5,421,241
37,846,611
10,196,709
19,237,691
145,934,462
33,931
8,737,371
5,459,642
2,078,938
46,754,778
10,099,265
8,654,622
43,733,762
67,886,011

Middle East Domains

Country

Arab Emirates

Bahrain
Iraq
Israel
Jordan
Kuwait
Lebanon
Oman
Qatar
Saudi Arabia
Yemen
Turkey
Domain
.ae
.bh
.iq
.co.il
.jo
.com.kw
.com.lb
.com.com, .om
.qa
.com.sa, .sa
.com.ye
.com.tr
Language
Arabic
Arabic
Kurdish, Arabic
Hebrew
Arabic
Arabic
Arabic
Arabic
Arabic
Arabic
Arabic
Turkish
Capital
Abu Dhabi
Manama
Baghdad
Jerusalem
Amman
Kuwait City
Beirut
Muscat
Doha
Riyadh
Sana'a
Ankara
Pop.
9,890,402
1,701,575
40,222,493
8,655,535
10,203,134
4,270,571
6,825,445
5,106,626
2,881,053
34,813,871
29,825,964
84,339,067

Oceania Domains

Country

American Samoa

Australia
Cocos Islands
Cook Islands
Fiji
French Polynesia
Heard and McDonald Islands
Kiribati
Mariana
Micronesia
Nauru
New Caledonia
New Zealand
Norfolk
Palau
Pitcairn
Samoa
Solomon Islands
Tokelau
Tonga
Tuvalu
Vanuatu
Wallis and Futuna
Domain Extension
.as
.com.au
.cc
.co.ck
.com.fj
.com.pf, pf
.hm
.com.ki
.mp
.fm
.nr
.nc
.co.nz, .nz
.nf
.pw
.pn
.ws
.sb
.tk
.to
.tv
.vu
.wf
Language
Samoan, English
English
English
Rarotongan, English
Fijian, English, Fiji Hindi
French
English
Kiribati, English
Chamorro, Carolinian, English
English
Nauruan, English
French
Maori, English
English, Norfuk
Palauan, English
English
Samoan, English
English
Tokelauan, English
Tongan, English
Tuvaluan, English
French, English, Bislama
French
Capital
Pago Pago
Canberra
West Island
Avarua District
Suva
Pape'ete
N/A
Tarawa
Saipan
Palikir
Nauru
Nouméa
Wellington
Kingston
Ngerulmud
Adamstown
Apia
Honiara
Nukunonu
Nuku'alofa
Funafuti
Port Vila
Matā'utu
Pop.
55,191
25,499,884
544
17,564
896,445
280,908
0
119,449
57,559
548,914
10,824
285,498
4,822,233
1,748
18,094
50
198,414
686,884
1,357
105,695
11,792
307,145
11,239

South America Domains

Country

Argentina

Bolivia
Brazil
Chile
Colombia
Ecuador
Falkland Islands
French Guiana
Guyana
Paraguay
Peru
S.Georgia and S.Sandwich Islands
Suriname
Uruguay
Venezuela
Domain Extension
.ar, .com.ar
.bo
.com.br
.cl
.com.br
.ec
.co.fk
.gf
.gy
.com.py
.pe
.gs
.sr
.com.uy, .uy
.com.ve
Language
Spanish
Spanish
Portuguese
Spanish
Spanish
Spanish
English
French
English
Paraguayan Guarani, Spanish
Spanish, Aymara
English
Dutch
Spanish
Spanish
Capital
Buenos Aires
La Paz, Sucre
Brasilia
Santiago
Bogotá
Quito
Stanley
Cayenne
Georgetown
Asunción
Lima
King Edward Point
Paramaribo
Montevideo
Caracas
Pop.
45,195,774
11,673,021
212,559,417
19,116,201
50,882,891
17,643,054
3,480
298,682
786,552
7,132,538
32,971,854
0
586,632
3,473,730
28,435,940
en_USEnglish
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