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Mousetrapping in Computer Security: Definition

Instructor: Lyna Griffin

Lyna has tutored undergraduate Information Management Systems and Database Development. She has a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and a Masters degree in Information Technology.

In this lesson, we will define mousetrapping and the features on a website that constitute this malicious practice. We will examine some of the implications.

Trapped

Many of us have found ourselves in a sticky situation at some point when browsing the internet. Whether it is an annoying recurring pop-up message, a stubborn tab on the browser that won't close or some strange tabs which keep opening when we click certain menu items, we can all relate in one way or another. Mousetrapping is somewhere in that mix!

What Is Mousetrapping?

Mousetrapping is exactly as it sounds. A mousetrap traps an internet user when they are clicking their mouse on different parts of a website and puts them into a situation which seems to have no way out. Mousetrapping is the term used to describe the unethical practice that forces users to stay on a particular website.

There are some unscrupulous site owners who have crafted malicious code within their website navigation structures, seizing the visiting user's browser with controls that prevent the users from leaving that site. These controls can be in the form of a disabled backward/forward or close button, so that the only actionable menu item buttons or pop-up screens that are responsive force the user into executing a process dictated by the site owner.

Types of Mousetrapping

New Tabs - Same Site

The objective is always the same. Keep the user on the site! Mousetrapping situations can entail recurring new tabs that open to the same website whenever the user executes a mouse action that should enable him to exit the site. This is used to attract the attention of the visitor to all forms of notices, material or advertisements running on the website.

Call-to-action

Other traps occur in which the user's repeated attempts to exit the site trigger a cycle of unwanted and recurring pop-up windows or messages forcing a certain call-to-action. A call-to-action is an image, pop-up window, or line of text that forces the user to take some sort of action. These actions could be anything from downloading a file, signing up for something, or accepting an option. Until the user succumbs and executes that action, they are trapped in the cycle.

Other Considerations

Recurring pop-up windows of the same site or of some advertisement are no doubt annoying but somewhat harmless. The call-to-action triggers, on the other hand, are a danger. Since the call-to-action may force the user to execute a transaction, download a file, or accept some form of instruction, the actions literally open the door to malicious attacks on the victim's system.

Another Mousetrapping Example

Phishing and Pharming are known methods to get visitors onto questionable websites. However, malicious individuals have another trick up their sleeve. This is a simple one, our spelling mistakes.

Suppose you want to visit the website of your favorite sports celebrity and icon whose name is Qwame Windapple. This first name is more commonly spelled with a 'k' as Kwame.

So, you key in: www.kwamewindapple.com

Unfortunately, Qwame Windapple's website is: www.qwamewindapple.com

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