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What is Mousetrapping?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Mousetrapping is a technique used to trap an unwilling visitor at an offending website in order to gain maximum benefit from the one-time visit. A victim of mousetrapping is most often delivered to the offending site via pagejacking, which occurs when a surfer believes he or she has clicked on a legitimate link, only to be redirected to a pornographic site.

Unscrupulous persons can copy high-ranking, legitimate webpages, then add a bit of code that causes would-be visitors to land somewhere else entirely. These bogus links end up in search engines because the stolen content and code mirrors legitimate pages (aside from the redirect). A surfer can’t tell if a link is bogus or not until he or she clicks on it. Choose to visit a camera retailer, check out wedding dresses, or see the score for last night’s game, for example, and you might end up in the “red light” district.

Pagejackers know that unwilling visitors will immediately try to click out of the offending site, so they incorporate additional redirect code that prevents leaving, while using the visitor’s clicks to generate revenue. Pressing buttons like “back,” “forward,” or even “close” will begin a loop, opening one offensive site or advertisement after the next, popping up banner after banner in a cascade of windows. This is mousetrapping.

As the visitor gets more and more frustrated trying to click out, each click benefits the pagejacker. This unlawful practice does not rely on return visits or creating a nice experience for the visitor, it’s simply meant to exploit clicks. In effect, mousetrapping is a kind of electronic mugging. Muggers don’t expect you to return, they take everything they can on the spot. The philosophy behind pagejacking is the same.

Although some browsers and plug-ins prevent scripts that cause loops or redirects, if you find yourself pagejacked you can avoid mousetrapping by manually entering a legitimate address in the URL (address) field of the browser. Another option is to click on a saved bookmark or a link from your “Favorites” folder. Avoid clicking on window or banner buttons, even when they feature a “Close” button. The close button is commonly another redirect trick.

Pagejacking and mousetrapping can both be avoided by disabling JavaScript, though many users prefer not to do this since legitimate sites also make use of JavaScript. One alternative is to use the Firefox™ browser, which has available add-ons to prevent scripting globally, while allowing users to enable scripting for specific sites. The browser is free and open-source, as are its add-ons. Another alternative is to install a filtering program that blocks access to sites that contain objectionable content.

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Discussion Comments

By anon259162 — On Apr 04, 2012

Oh, my good Lord! I had no idea about "mousetrapping" and "pagejacking" until I happened upon your very useful and informative site!

I must thank you for the swift education, and although I do realize that there are several unworthies with malicious intent out there, such information still comes as a huge shock. --Cleo

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