Website Spoofing: What It Is and How to Protect Yourself Against It

Learn all about this form of spoofing that involves websites and URLs

Person sitting at wooden table and browsing website on MacBook Air laptop.

Pixabay/Pexels

Website spoofing is the act of creating a fake website that strongly resembles a legitimate one. In this scam, the fake website is used to grab your personal information (like financial information or account logins) or even just to infect your computer with malware.

How Website Spoofing Works

The part of website spoofing that makes it particularly dangerous is the lengths scammers will go to to make their fake websites look exactly like websites you trust and visit everyday, just so they can convince you to interact with it and give up your information.

According to cybersecurity company Malwarebytes, scammers will often try to copy a trusted company's "branding, user interface, and even a spoofed domain name" and include those elements in their own fake website. In addition, many of these spoofed websites may be introduced to you via a spoofed email claiming to come from a trusted organization. These emails can contain links to the fake, spoofed website.

How URL Spoofing Relates to Website Spoofing

Remember those suspicious links found in scam emails? That's URL spoofing. When scammers use spoofed URLs (read: fake web addresses), those URLs are designed to convince you to click a malicious link, and to direct you to their own fake website.

These fake web addresses are designed to either look very similar to legitimate safe websites, websites you'd normally trust; or the link to the fake website is hidden so the intended victim isn't really sure if the linked website is legitimate or not.

Types of URL Spoofing

According to NordVPN, there are four common types of URL spoofing:

  • Misspelled links
  • URL shorteners
  • Links hidden within hyperlinked words
  • URLs featuring non-Latin characters.

Misspelled links are URLs that look very similar to the URL of a trusted site, but with slight differences like an extra letter or a letter replaced with a different letter or character. Links that have been shrunk by URL shortener services can often hide the true URL of a fake website.

Hyperlinked words in spam emails can also hide spoofed URLs. If you're not careful, clicking a hyperlinked word can lead you to a fake website. And some spoofed URLs look very similar except for the use of non-Latin characters in them (like certain letters with accent marks). If you don't look closely at these URLs you may miss one of these symbols and just assume the web address provided to you is the same the one your trusted company or organization actually uses for their website.

How to Protect Yourself From Web Spoofing Attacks

Now that you're aware of how website spoofing and URL spoofing work, here are a few ways to protect yourself from web spoofing attacks.

  1. Learn to spot spoofed URLs, then avoid clicking them. There are ways to keep an eye out for spoofed URLs. If presented with a link, use your mouse to hover over it to see the web address so you'll know where the link leads. Don't simply click the link. When you're looking at the web address, make sure it has an "HTTPS" at the beginning. A URL with just an "HTTP" is still suspicious. You should also look for misspellings or odd characters in the URL.

  2. Perform a Google search on the company or organization in question. You don't have to click a link just because it was provided to you in a convincing looking email. Use a search engine to look up what the URL for a company's website should be. You can also look up the contact information for the company in question and contact them directly to verify the message came from them. Use only the contact information you independently researched and verified, not the info from the email.

  3. Use an effective antivirus software. There are antivirus software options and services that can block web spoofing attacks even if you still find yourself on a spoofed website. Such software can also prevent spoofed websites from trying to automatically download malware onto your computer.