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Unmasking the IDN Homograph Attack: Protect Your Online Accounts

By Tom Seest

What Is An Internationalized Domain Name Homograph Attack?

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Homograph attacks are a type of domain name spoofing that utilizes characters that look alike in ASCII, such as a zero instead of an O or a lowercase “l” instead of an uppercase “i.”
These lookalikes can make it difficult to determine whether you are on an authentic website, potentially leading to users clicking links that lead them to malicious phishing sites or software.

Are Your Online Accounts At Risk? Uncovering the Internationalized Domain Name Homograph Attack

Are Your Online Accounts At Risk? Uncovering the Internationalized Domain Name Homograph Attack

What Makes IDN Homograph Attacks a Threat?

Internationalized Domain Name (IDN) is a web address that contains characters other than Latin script or characters. This allows websites to support more languages by enabling non-Latin speakers around the world to access the Internet instead of just A-Z characters, digits, and letters from a given language.
IDNs can be leveraged for phishing attacks and other malicious purposes, so it’s essential to have strong security measures in place to guard against such risks. One effective method is avoiding clicking on any website with a phishing domain. Furthermore, make sure your browser is regularly updated so you’re always protected.
The Internationalized Domain Name homograph attack is a type of domain name spoofing that takes advantage of the similarity between IDNs and Latin letters. This technique is similar to typosquatting, where someone creates a new domain that appears identical to an established one and relies on users mistyping its URL in their browser address bar.
Homograph attacks pose a security risk because it’s difficult to recognize an Internationalized Domain Name (IDN) by its Unicode form. This is because IDNs often contain mixed scripts, which differ from the Unicode character set or appear similar to legitimate domain names owned by different individuals.
Due to this, ICANN has issued policies to restrict the use of IDNs that bear similarities to Latin TLDs. These include prohibiting potential IDN TLDs from using similar lettering as existing Latin-based TLDs such as.bg (Bulgaria),.ukr (Ukraine) or. El (Greece).
Homograph attacks can be prevented on both client and server sides, with major browsers implementing algorithms that attempt to identify and remove IDN homographs from their displays. Furthermore, ccTLD registry operators have implemented restrictions on the registration of IDN homographs.
Therefore, IDN homographs are less successful at spoofing users since they are harder to recognize by modern web browsers. Nonetheless, the issue still exists in cyberspace, and a combination of preventative measures is needed to safeguard online users.

What Makes IDN Homograph Attacks a Threat?

What Makes IDN Homograph Attacks a Threat?

Are You Vulnerable to Homograph Attacks?

Homographs are words with similar spelling but different meanings and sometimes differing pronunciations (how we say them). This term derives from the Greek words “homos,” which means same, and “grapho,” which means to write.
Homographs are common in many languages but are particularly prevalent in English. They can be highly useful during cyberattacks by allowing an attacker to impersonate a legitimate website or domain name by using an IDN that looks similar to the real thing.
Homographs can be found in a variety of languages, such as French, German and Chinese. Some were created through the combination of two characters into one glyph during script reform in Old and Middle Chinese.
Other homographs may arise from differences between literary and colloquial readings of characters or between versions of a given character. This is often the case in modern Chinese varieties, where some characters have changed in meaning but were still spelled the same way.
Other non-Latin alphabets, such as Armenian and Cyrillic, share many homographs which are physically identical across languages. This makes them useful for creating fake Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) that appear to come from the Latin alphabet but actually redirect users away from malicious websites.
Homographs can be employed to create fake websites or domains that look identical to popular sites and trick victims into logging in, providing personal information, or even purchasing items from fake sites. These attacks, known as “script spoofing,” are particularly hazardous since users who click on them are likely to provide their credit card numbers, login credentials, or other sensitive personal data.
Researchers advise computer users to be aware of homographs in their character sets. Furthermore, they suggest being wary when clicking links within email messages, documents, webpages, or web browsers. This will help prevent attacks such as these from taking place.

Are You Vulnerable to Homograph Attacks?

Are You Vulnerable to Homograph Attacks?

Are Your Online Accounts Safe from IDN Homograph Attacks?

Internationalized Domain Name homograph attacks are forms of spoofing that use characters from various languages to create domain names that appear legitimate. These attacks, sometimes referred to as “script spoofing,” can be employed for sending phishing emails or installing malware onto a user’s system.
In an effort to make the internet accessible for people using different alphabets, ICANN implemented the Internationalized Domain Names (IDN) standard that permits non-Latin characters in domain names. While this is a positive development, it also presents an internet vulnerability that could potentially be exploited by malicious hackers and attackers.
Homograph attacks can be used to trick users into visiting malicious websites and providing them with sensitive information, such as credit card details. They’re particularly common in phishing campaigns and man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks, where an attacker attempts to steal credentials from a user by intercepting an email or web page that has already been opened in their browser.
Spoofing attacks are not limited to phishing; they can be employed in any fraudulent or malvertising activities, such as hosting exploit kits or creating malicious mobile apps. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to identify homographed domains, leaving threat actors free to select one of the many registrars that don’t perform any domain registration vetting on IDN-containing domains.
However, there are steps your organization can take to help prevent these attacks. Firstly, ensure your organization utilizes a robust domain security solution and regularly updates it. Furthermore, consider integrating Bitdefender Threat Intelligence into your existing security infrastructure for up-to-date contextual intelligence on URLs, IPs, and domains.
Second, you should provide awareness training to employees about the potential for homograph attacks. Do this by outlining the risks and providing a link to an endpoint security solution that detects and blocks malicious sites, such as Bitdefender Network Attack Defense.
Another method to protect against this attack is using a web browser that does not support IDNA and displays IDNs in Punycode, an alternative type of Unicode representation less similar to ASCII. This approach has been taken by Firefox and Tor Browser; however, this could leave users vulnerable to homograph attacks if they access the malicious domain through another browser.

Are Your Online Accounts Safe from IDN Homograph Attacks?

Are Your Online Accounts Safe from IDN Homograph Attacks?

How Can You Protect Yourself from Homograph Attacks?

Homograph attacks are one of the most successful phishing tactics employed by cybercriminals. They typically combine with other phishing attempts to gain access to an organization.
This attack takes advantage of the similarity between letters in different alphabets. By replacing Latin characters in an Internationalized Domain Name (IDN) with characters from non-Latin-based languages like Cyrillic, threat actors can create a URL that appears identical to the real website they are trying to access.
Organizations can prevent homograph attacks by either providing their employees with ongoing training on recognizing suspicious domains or implementing robust web filtering tailored to cybersecurity. These measures are especially critical given the rising popularity of Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) and how easy it is to create spoofing sites.
Defenses against homograph attacks include algorithmic analysis of URL character sets, whitelisting domains, and implementing awareness in client applications that automatically determine whether an IDN is legitimate or a spoof. Unfortunately, these defenses are not universal and may be difficult for users to implement.
Another way to protect against homograph attacks is by blocking Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) on the server side using policies implemented by ICANN. These regulations typically prevent internationalized top-level domains from containing characters that could cause them to appear similar to existing Latin top-level domains, making it much harder for malicious actors to utilize IDNs in their phishing campaigns.
Another way to protect against homograph attacks is disabling IDN support in web browsers or at least displaying them using Punycode, an encoding that converts Unicode characters to smaller ASCII subsets. This can be done through browser settings, plugins, or modifications to the operating system itself.
Finally, some organizations may block IDNs through their DNS servers by forcing them to be resolved on a TLD with more length, like.gov or. Uk. Despite these precautions, homograph attacks remain an extremely serious risk and must not be overlooked.
At present, the best defense against IDN threats is to keep users away from IDNs altogether. However, this can be a challenging endeavor due to so many different IDNs around the world, especially if users are unfamiliar with them. To combat this problem, an innovative homograph attack prevention method, which incorporates both algorithmic analysis of IDNs and user-oriented security measures, is being developed. This mitigation measure is currently being tested on the Google Chrome browser as an add-on.

How Can You Protect Yourself from Homograph Attacks?

How Can You Protect Yourself from Homograph Attacks?

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