In our last three blog articles, we’ve discussed Cybersquatting and Typosquatting and the issues it can cause for businesses. So what does the future hold for Cybersquatting in the following months, and years? Before we look forward, let’s take a look back at how domain names have evolved over the past few decades.
In January 1985 a list of the first domain suffixes was created. Dot Com (.com) quickly became the most popular, despite its original intent to be used for commercial purposes only. Its use expanded into all types of generic web pages, and became synonymous with America itself.
When you consider that a domain suffix like “.com” can have domain names of up to 253 characters (alpha and/or numeric), the number of domain name possibilities is considerable and the problem of cybersquatting becomes difficult to deal with. Add to this the remaining 7 Top-Level Domains (TLDs) – Edu, Gov, Mil, Net, Org, Arpa and Int – and the problem grows exponentially.
A year after TLDs where released, location domain suffixes where released: e.g. us, uk, il, au, de, fr, etc. These became known as Country Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLDs). This further confused things, because the suffixes themselves became part of the Typosquatting. For example, the location suffix for Cameroon (.cm) could easily be “mistyped” in instead of “.com”.
Back to current day, new suffixes have been released gradually over the last few years by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), steadily increasing the already staggering possibilities of cybersquatting. The market has exploded with the release of over 300 Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs). Now, there are numerous suffixes available to enable any business to choose a suitable gTLD to give their website personality, or to make their website more instantly recognisable (since the new gTLDs are self-explanatory). These suffixes are even available in different languages.
There are six main categories:
- Internationalised Domain Names: Where the domain suffix is in a foreign-script, e.g. .شبكة
- Brand-specific domains: Where brands register a whole suffix, e.g. .GOOGLE
- Geographical domains, e.g. .LONDON or .MELBOURNE
- Sector-focused, e.g. .SHOP or .LUXURY
- All-purpose domains, e.g. .World or .LINK
- Generic domains, e.g. .CLUB or .COOL
It’s easy to see how an unsuspecting victim can fall prey to an email from ‘XYZ.Lawyers’ demanding money. Nothing has changed with the dispute process and Intellectual Property (IP) owners are still able to complain to ICANN if they find offending domain names.
Sadly, most cyber-criminals know the best time to take advantage is during a time of change and they move fast. As Joanne Ludovici, a partner with McDermott Will & Emery in Washington explains, “They throw your brand name in the site, get a bunch of traffic, take in a bunch of money and shut it down”. With thousands of new top-level domains to play with, cyber criminals are like kids in a candy store.
What are the threats?
Protecting your brand’s identity and trademark should be of utmost importance. There are three main areas of threat to consider. They can cause significant damage to a business’ reputation online, so brands need to be on high alert.
- Brand damage – Unhappy or disgruntled customers can damage your brand by registering domains such as brandname.sucks. Some domains to watch out for are: .sucks, .gripe, .exposed, .cheap, .adult, .porn.
- Fraud – Phishing threats are increasing, and criminals could register your brand under a new domain to impersonate your brand and steal customer credentials. Some domains to be aware of are: .group, .solutions, .online, .finance, .bank.
- Counterfeiting – Domains that could be registered for the sale of counterfeit goods utilising your brand, such as brandname.cheap. Some Domains to look out for are: .shop, .deal, .discount, .sale.
How to Protect Your Brand
As a Brand owner, you need to carry out a review of how your name is registered and used online. An important step is to register your trademark in the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH), which is a database of registered trademarks and offers protection tailored to trademark holders. At the time of writing this article the price is US$150 per trademark per year to register with ICANN’s TMCH. This service will send alerts to Intellectual Property (IP) owners when new domains are registered that resemble their company’s Trademarked names.
Registering your brand has two significant advantages:
- You will have first pick on registering new domains related to your trademark, prior to the domain registration process opening to the general public. This drastically minimizes the chances of cybersquatting, where third parties try to exploit your brand name, or impersonate you online.
- Once registered in the TMCH, you will be notified if anyone else attempts to register a domain using your trademark. You will then have the opportunity to act quickly if you feel your trademark ownership is being abused.