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Taking Down Websites to Prevent Crime

Website takedown is a key tool used by financial institutions to defend against ‘phishing’ – the use of fraudulent websites to steal customer credentials . Takedown is also used to disrupt a range of other crimes, by removing the websites used in advance fee frauds, disseminating malware, distributing child sexual abuse content, recruiting money mules, or for trading stolen credit card details, pharmaceuticals or other illicit goods. Takedown usually requires intervention by service providers, which includes both hosting providers and domain name registrars. Options for hosting criminal websites include compromising an existing host to add extra pages, using free providers who allow the creation of simple websites, using a paid-for hosting provider (for which the criminal can choose the domain name), or setting up a website as a hidden service that can only be accessed using an anonymity network .

The takedown of these websites is achieved in many different ways, undertaken alone or in combination. These include the hosting provider taking down the website, having the owners of a compromised machine remove offending pages, suspending the domain name, or seizing the physical server as part of a wider law enforcement initiative. Website takedown is an example of situational crime prevention, as it aims to change the environment in which crime occurs. Research into takedowns of websites disseminating malware has found that responsiveness by hosting providers depends on the countermeasures adopted by offenders, and the way takedowns are requested. However, little is known about the effectiveness of website takedown as an intervention method to disrupt different types of online crime. In particular, websites can quickly reappear, and legitimate websites can be adversely affected ,. Moore and Clayton examined the effects of website takedown on phishing, and found that it is helpful, but it cannot completely mitigate phishing attacks as it will never be instantaneous.

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