I’m sure you’ve all seen the recent Internationalized Domain Name exploit, which affects most web browsers (except for Internet Explorer – shocker! – because it doesn’t yet have the power to support internationalized domain names): if you haven’t, why not visit paypal.com – looks just like the real thing; doesn’t it: the browser bar says you’re at PayPal’s real site, but you’re not. That first ‘a’ in the name is an international character (actually the letter ‘a’ from the Cyrillic character set, which is just slightly different from a Western ‘a’, if you look closely. Of course, this leads to potentially thousands of dangerous phishing exploits, tricking users into exposing their bank account details to random Nigerians.
Opera, makers of a stunning web browser that I’m not quite sure I should be abandoning yet, have announced their solution to this problem (which isn’t actually a web browser problem at all, but a specification problem): IDN domain names from outside of places which are expected to need then (e.g. dot-jp, etc.) will be displayed longhand, and secure sites (https) will display their certificate holder’s name – longhand – alongside the domain name in the address bar.
Of course, unless you’re using Opera 8 beta, the only way to be sure you’re safe from this exploit is to manually type in every link you follow.