Technical Analysis: The Abercrombie and Fitch Brown Pants Fiasco, "Splogs," and you
WARNING - This post will ultimately lead you to sites using offensive racial terms.
My Twitter friend Wesley pointed me this apparent Abercrombie and Fitch website advertising a pair of N***** Brown Pants. Here's a screenshot if that link dies. After the shock and frustration wears off, you ask yourself "How could this happen?" This link is spreading all over Twitter and the social web right now, and I'm sure that the Abercrombie PR machine will jump on it when their Twitter person wakes up.
Let me walk you through a few things.
- First, what a technical-type person does (or should do) in this situation.
- Second, why the internet is WAY WAY more screwed up than you ever thought
- Third, why no one should really be buying anything on the web.
The Technical Details
While it's possible that an idiot at Abercombie entered the N-word text, my eye immediately went to the domain:
Note the dashes and the "and?" No internationally-known and copyrighted brand would have such a lousy domain. I'd expect Abercrombie.com, full stop. In fact, it is.
I loaded up Domain Tools to see who owns this obvious knockoff. Like actual physical knockoffs of pants, there's no good way to tell what's real and what's not. I hit: http://whois.domaintools.com/abercrombie-and-fitchoutlet.com
+86.095156230147 fax: +86.095156230147
NO.217 North Street, Yinchuan Qinghe
yinchuanshi ningxia 750000
The domain is registered in China. OK, this is NOT Abercrombie's site. It can also be confirmed by the poor English on the site's about page as well as the throwaway reference to Chinese piracy:
A&F is the favorite brand of American college students, a lovely deer printed on the front of the youth fashion. Its fashion and personalized style always the certain reason some youngsters follow. Nowadays, Abercrombie and Fitch piracy in China has spread to unimaginable proportions. Soft cotton is comfortable in the apparel.
OK, so how much of a problem is this and these pants? The combination of the N-word along with a unique brand-name like Abercrombie makes for a good hash. That means these words together, especially if you add "pants," makes for a search term that is unlikely to happen in the wild.
It's worse than you think
If we then Google for the four words together (forgive me) you can see hundreds if not thousands of fake domains. For Example:
You get the idea. There are at least hundreds. All with the same pants, all registered in China. I can't imagine, sadly, that there's ANYTHING that Abercrombie could do about this except try to get the domains shut down - one by one.
How could your Mom possibly know this?
These are automatically generated sites, like "splogs." Splogs are spam blogs. They aren't real stores, there aren't real people behind them. They are almost like computer viruses, except they make stores. In this case, it appears that someone in China at some point designed a system that could churn out fake stores from a single database. That's why these pants keep appearing on hundreds of other sites.
Imagine if you just wanted a regular pair of pants and didn't see this pair? How could you possibly tell if this the site you want? There's no good way. Here's what you CAN do.
- Make sure the URL starts with https:// when you are checking out.
- Click the lock in your URL and see if the company name looks legit. Sadly, these can be faked also, but it's a start. HTTPS (SSL) doesn't mean "I can trust this site," it means "this conversation is private." You still might be having a private conversation with Satan.
- Even better, if your Address Bar is green, click on it! This is a special "high trust" certificate that says you are really talking to who you think you are. This screenshot means "I am having a private conversation with a company that is KNOWN to be Twitter." Banks and big companies often use these special certs.
Ultimately, you, me, Mom and the Web need to develop a better "Internet Sense of Smell." The bad guys want our credit card numbers and will do everything they can to get them, even make ten-thousand fake Abercrombie and Fitch sites.
UPDATE: Thanks for the comments! If you (or Mom) had the Web of Trust installed, this is what you would have seen when visiting an evil site like this. I'm installing this free tool on Mom's machine today.
Good luck out there. It's a messed up web.