The Domain Name System was developed more than 30 years ago as a way to ensure that the brilliant network we now know as the Internet could scale and see adoption. Before the DNS existed, Internet users would need to remember the IP address for every website on the Internet. Research has shown that seven digits tends to be the capacity for human memory (think phone numbers, sans area code) and IP addresses can be twelve — more now with IPv6. The DNS is part of the Internet’s infrastructure, earning it the somewhat unflattering analogy of the plumbing of the Internet. But in truth, its primary role has traditionally been that.

Recently ICANN, the global body that oversees the Internet and authors its policies, announced a plan to make available a throng of new top-level domains. Preexisting TLDs include .com, .net, .org, .co.uk, among many others. Twenty-two in total. The new ones are seemingly designed primarily to help businesses and spur economic activity. The new domains can be grouped into two classifications:

– .xxx: Designated for websites that include pornographic content as a way to easily differentiate them from non-pornographic sites.

– Generic TLDs, or “gTLDs”: Basically turns any brand or term into its own TLD. .Pepsi, .Apple, .Football or .Money, for example.

The release of both new groups of TLDs raises interesting issues for OpenDNS. Today we are the largest recursive DNS provider in the world, with more than 30 million people using our service. (Nearly doubling our traffic in the past 1.5 years.) We’re the innovator in the DNS space, as we introduced the concept of building security directly into the Domain Name System. Phishing protection came first, followed by typo-correction that helps people route around typo-squatting. Then Conficker protection and most recently, the most game-changing malware-blocking service, available to users to OpenDNS Enterprise.

But as we’ve seen countless times, with more ground to cover comes more fraud and crime. Many critics of ICANN’s move to add more domains see the potential for more:

– Cyber squatting, which is the practice of registering a domain using a trademarked brand that doesn’t belong to you. Highly annoying to Internet users and costly to brands.

– Typo squatting, which is like cyber squatting, but using a typo’d variation of the trademarked brand. Also highly annoying to Internet users and costly to brands.

– And generally more cyber crime and confusion among Internet users created by a change to the way domains are structured.

We’ve often said that the bad guys on the Internet tend to be one step ahead of the good guys, making the task of delivering an effective security service both very challenging and in a constant state of evolution. So when supporters of ICANN’s move argue that ICANN has no intention of allowing the new domains to act as a platform for crime, we can appreciate the perspective, but have little confidence that will ultimately be the case. Cyber squatting and cyber crime account for more than $1B in revenue annually, and when that kind of money is at stake, the bad guys find a way to be effective. Scott Pinzon, director of marketing and outreach at ICANN offers the perspective that, “new gTLDs represent a platform for innovation.” And goes on to say, “no one can predict what smart people will do with them. Lots of new business models will be invented. Some will work. Some won’t.” We agree with Scott, but also have a front row seat to the counterpart, sophisticated criminal activity that follows innovation.

Some of you will remember when the country of Cameroon was opportunistically assigned the .cm TLD and wildcarded all .cm domains. The country made a nice profit, but it confused masses of Internet users who’d accidentally made a typo when trying to get to a .com. We acted swiftly and delivered a feature that automatically redirected you to .com when you typed .cm.

In relation to the recent ICANN changes, there’s a great deal we can do as your DNS service to help ensure the Internet remains a safe place for you and yours to browse. It’s unclear at this point how successful these new domains will be and how much traction they’ll see, especially because at an upfront fee of $185k, the new gTLDS are not accessible to everyone.

Have thoughts on the topics above? Agree, or passionately disagree? Predictions for what kind of repercussions the Internet will see? We’d love to hear them in the comments.

How to Block .xxx Using OpenDNS:

In the immediate term, users of OpenDNS services with content filtering that want to block all .xxx domains on their networks can follow a few simple steps. Simply locate your “always block” or blacklist and add “xxx” (without the dot). Hit save and the change will take effect.

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