Thursday, June 23, 2011

Freeing of domain names may help cybersquatters
CHENNAI: It's been touted as the biggest internet shake-up since '.com' made its entry in 1984. But the freeing up of domain names may open the floodgates to cybersquatting and online fraud on an unprecedented scale.

This May, iPhone-maker Apple bought back the domain for about $4.5 million (over Rs 20 crore) before the much-publicized unveiling of the service. In the same month, rival Amazon bought domain names A.Co, Z.Co, K.Co, and Cloud.Co from a Colombia-based domain registry firm .Co for an undisclosed amount. Now imagine if corporate houses have to contend with infinite variations of their names and trademarks on the Internet as well.

Experts say issues of patent and trademark are likely to make a comeback with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – the body governing Internet domain names – allowing all kinds of net suffixes alongside the popular ones like .com and .net. ICANN has even allowed companies and community groups to create their own names after the dot. Mid-level cos may be unable to protect domain names

As of now, there are 22 generic top level domain names that include popular ones like .com and .net. In addition, there are around 225 country domains like .us, .uk and .in. The future holds mind-boggling options.

"Companies, especially midscale ones, would not be able to protect all domain names and some bit of it would be registered by others," says cyber lawyer Pavane Duggal. This is because the possible combinations of an entity's name may run into thousands and with the steep price of application of $1,85,000 (over Rs 80 lakh), not many medium sized companies would be able to afford it. "But I expect all big corporations to move aggressively and secure all related domain names," says Duggal.

A decade ago, when 'dotcom' exploded on the scene, a lot of inter-net opportunists grabbed up popular names such as Tata. The conglomerate had to move court to evict a cyber squatter from 10 contested domain names that included and Duggal says the further freeing up of internet domains could be expected to lead to "a lot of litigation". "In effect, it would be action replay."

Phishing is the other major issue. "There's a very legitimate concern that cyber criminals could also seek these new domain names to create legitimate looking websites using well known brand names. These can then be used for phishing attacks or delivery of Trojan malware," says Spencer Parker, group product manager, Websense, a firm company that specializes in Internet security.

The fact that medium-sized firms may not be able to buy related domain names may lead to more phishing against them, especially against financial firms, said Jaideep Ghosh, who heads information, communications and entertainment at KPMG Advisory Services.

Apart from a rise in securityrelated issues and litigation related to web properties, Ghosh said the ICANN move may also increase confusion among consumers. "Searches might thr ow up results which are not entirely relevant and indexing these new breed of sites might be difficult."

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