Cybersquatting is an ever-growing threat to brand reputation, with more than a quarter-million such attacks recorded this year, according to a report released Monday by MarkMonitor.

The research, which tracks the top 25 brands from the 2006 Top 100 Interbrand study, found that more than 275,000 instances of cybersquatting took place in the first quarter of this year. Such attacks were often combined with pay-per-click fraud, phishing or kiting because of strong brand names, according to the study.

"Brand holders face a double whammy – not only is the volume of these abuses significant, but attackers are becoming alarmingly savvy marketers," says Frederick Felman, chief marketing officer for MarkMonitor. "Our analysis identifies cybersquatting as a driver leading to other abuses that further degrade brand value, customer loyalty and revenues."

Cybersquatting, also known as brandjacking, is the practice of registering, trafficking or other bad-faith use of a domain name associated with a well known, trademarked brand.

Phishing incidents rose by 104 percent during the same period, according to the report. The internet fraud-prevention company attributed the hike to advances in phishing technology — in particular one-time use and unique URL attacks — which are evading the traditional blocking techniques.

The number of brands targeted in phishing attacks reached an all-time high of 229 last month, according to the report.

"Botnets and phishing kites have reduced the technology requirements and resources needed to execute attacks," said Felman. "Phishers are adopting direct marketing methodologies to experiment with brands, evaluate efficiencies and exploit lax enforcement."

Phishers mostly targeted financial firms, with 41 percent of all phishing scams directed at this sector, a 12-percent increase from the same period last year.

"This rise in attacks on financial institutions is not surprising," said Felman. "The yield for online banking credentials is incredibly high for phishers. They are taking advantage of the large number of mergers and acquisitions, as well as the ongoing shift from brick-and-mortar to online banking. Customers are confused, and the phishers are capitalizing on it."