A new category of typo-squatting: Bit-squatting – The correct spelling of a domain name may not always direct you to the relevant website.

Defective hardware may lead to a whole new category of typo-squatting.

Indeed, where incidents of typo-squatting usually arise due to a misspelling of a domain name by the Internet user himself, hardware malfunction may cause a false transcription of the domain name being typed.

When they are exposed to heat or radiation, memory chips and Central Processing Units caches can generate “flipped bits”, where a 1 turns into a 0 or vice-versa. Since each letter of a domain name is encoded with a binary code from 0000000 to 1111111, a single flipped bit can turn one letter into another and direct the Internet user towards a different domain.

Whilst acknowledging that not all of them could impact a DNS request, it seems that 614,000 memory errors occur per hour globally. Even though such malfunctions should statistically only be a concern for very high-traffic domains, and only if the bit malfunction is quite widespread, there is still a significant chance of problems occurring.

Indeed, bit squatting could be criminally profitable if it were to target popular domains, especially domain names for content delivery networks such as domains providing updates or antivirus protection. Furthermore, for trademark owners particularly at risk of typo-squatting, it is advisable to conduct a review of their trademark’s enforcement strategy.

To this end, trademark owners could proactively register domains that could be bit-squatted, just as some already do to prevent classical incidents of typo-squatting. Only, instead of looking for common misspellings of their name or brand, companies willing to address this problem should be provided with thorough expertise on widespread bit malfunctions.

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