Blog / Cyber-squatters – Protecting a Valuable Investment in your Domain Name
Kevin and I are off to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) shortly, so I thought I’d pass along this article from Karl Buckley, our Cyber Security Supervisor. Karl writes about Cyber-squatting:
Websites, email, web-services … most businesses link these back to some kind of domain name. This usually takes the form of something like www.mybusiness.com. Often people get the mistaken impression that this domain name belongs to them, on a permanent basis. That they have some level of ownership because that’s the name of their company. The truth is very different. It doesn’t, they are simply renting it.
Cyber-squatting is something many people may not be aware of. It’s when someone goes and purchases a vacant domain name. They can then setup their own website or even try to sell it back to the original owners (if someone let their domain name rental lapse).
For a major corporation (I.E. Microsoft) this sort of activity could be incredibly damaging. Obviously, you would be able to get a very good price if you managed to scoop their domain.
Is it legal? The answer is, yes and no; it really depends on what you intend to do with it.
Let’s see how registering domain names work. To begin with you go to a “domain name registrar” on the internet and make a request for a domain name. They do a search to see if anyone else has registered that EXACT NAME. If not, then you simply pay a fee and it’s yours for a year (or 2 or 3 years, depending on your fee). After that time, if you don’t pay your fee your domain because available for anyone to rent. Now remember that computers do things very quickly so your registration time is linked to the exact date, hour and second that you registered the domain name. Once that expires, there is no “grace period”. Computers don’t work that way.
Here is a fictitious example. Some small company (we’ll call them Micronics Software) decides to register a domain. “Microsoft” is a concatenation of its name, so they check to see if that domain is available and it is (let’s also assume there was a failure at Microsoft Inc. that allowed this) so they register it, setup their website and are very happy to see that it’s already getting a huge amount of traffic.
Fairly quickly (I’m sure) Microsoft finds out that a lot of their services have stopped working and realizes that someone else has registered their domain. Do they have any claim on Microsoft.com?
No, they don’t. They could try to sue, but the fact of the matter is that if Micronics Software was not trying to claim they were affiliated with Microsoft, or infringe on their trademark, they are under no obligation to give the domain back.
Microsoft could buy the domain back, but Micronics – knowing the value of it – would charge a hefty premium for it.
This is what Cyber-squatters do. They monitor the expiry date on domains they think could be profitable, they register them, and then sell back to the correct company.
A variation of Cyber-squatting is to hunt for common spelling errors for popular websites and register them. There’s nothing directly illegal about this. But think about the potential traffic you could get simply by having a website that was a slight variation on google, or twitter; have you tried going to the website twittter.com (3 Ts) or gooogle.com (3 Os)? They redirect you back to proper website. Those companies registered the domains, and configured them to redirect you back to the proper website. Many companies are proactive when registering spelling variations for their domain names.
Registering a domain costs pennies ($1 for a year on average), so it makes sense to register the common variations of a domain name. Equifax took over a total of 138 domain names that were like what it had setup for itself during their recent data breach.
If your company has a domain name registered, consider the impact of losing it; it could be expensive. And consider registering common variations of the domain to capture people who typed the name incorrectly.
If you need help registering domain names, you can always reach out to your TRINUS Account Manager for some stress-free IT. We offer managed Domain Name Services for a modest annual fee.