Security Experts:

Over 100,000 Fake Domains With Valid TLS Certificates Target Major Retailers

Venafi, a company that helps organizations secure cryptographic keys and digital certificates, says it has uncovered over 100,000 typosquatted domains with valid TLS certificates that appear to target major retailers.

With the holiday shopping season right around the corner, Venafi has conducted an analysis of lookalike domains targeting 20 major retailers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and France.

The analysis led to the discovery of 109,045 lookalike domains that use valid TLS certificates to make them appear more trustworthy. This is more than double compared to last year and the company has pointed out that only less than 20,000 certificates have been issued for legitimate retail domains.

Of the 109,000 typosquatted domains, nearly 84,000 target retailers in the U.S., including almost 50,000 domains that imitate one of the country’s top retailers. In the U.K., Venafi identifier nearly 14,000 certificates issued for fake retailer domains.

The company also found roughly 7,000 certificates for fake domains targeting retailers in Germany, 3,500 for domains targeting Australian retailers, and 1,500 targeting French retailers.

“Some of these URLs probably serve a legitimate purpose, but many may be used by attackers for fraudulent purposes. We think the sheer volume of these sites is a strong indication that a large number of them are being used for malicious purposes, especially since we are so close to the holiday shopping season,” Jing Xie, senior threat intelligence researcher at Venafi, told SecurityWeek.

Xie added, “Although our research did not analyze the specific threats connected with these domains, we know that lookalike domains are frequently used in phishing attacks and to distribute malware. For example back in 2017, security researchers found that many certificates that contained the word ‘Paypal’ were used in phishing websites. It’s logical to assume that attackers are using similar tactics with other retail domains.”

Overall, 60% of the typosquatted domains that had a valid TLS certificate had obtained the certificate for free from Let’s Encrypt. The goal of the Let’s Encrypt certificate authority is to make the web safer by providing website owners free digital certificates that they can use to encrypt traffic. However, its services are often abused for malicious purposes.

According to Venafi, 85% of the lookalike domains targeting German retailers obtained a certificate from Let’s Encrypt.

Related: Online Retailers Ill-Prepared for Holiday Season

Related: Study Finds Rampant Sale of SSL/TLS Certificates on Dark Web

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.