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The prevalence of domain blocking in an era where brand protection is king

(Image credit: Image Credit: Atm2003 / Shutterstock)

Maintaining a brand's reputation can be challenging, particularly in an online age where it can be dismantled within moments. Yet reputation is what ultimately attracts new customers, promotes brand loyalty and helps businesses to grow. Having a strong brand is extremely important and failure to protect it may lower its value and credibility. The majority of businesses have an online presence, and a damaged identity on this global network could have a significant impact on a company's desirability.

Domain blocking is a service which brands are beginning to use in order to protect their trademarked names from cybercriminals, who might try to register domains and use them in bad faith. Domain blocking itself is a fairly simple concept, and will directly block anyone else from registering domains which match a trademarked name, thereby protecting against its fraudulent use.

Back in 2011, ICANN authorised the use of the .xxx gTLD (generic top level domain) for the adult entertainment industry to avoid intruding on the traffic of broader audiences. However, it came to light that any brand or name could be registered within this extension. Many companies became anxious that adult-only websites could attempt to register popular brand names to gain traffic, leading to a lot of damaging impact on their trademark. They also didn’t want to be in any way related to the adult entertainment business. To prevent fraudulent sites from doing this, ICM Registry (the registry responsible for the .xxx TLD) allowed brands to block their trademark within the .xxx TLD.

Responding to cyber-invasion

Trademarks are highly important for a brand. When purchasing a service or a product, it’s only natural that we gravitate towards those brands that we know are reliable and trusted by others. Maintaining that reputation is crucial for any business with any sort of brand recognition, and losing this can be catastrophic. Whilst some of a brand’s reputation can be shaped by word-of-mouth, the majority of it is controlled by the company itself and in particular through its online identity; whether this be their company website or social channels. Therefore, their trademarked assets must not get into the hands of cybercriminals.

Unfortunately, cyber-hacks are not something that can be stopped altogether. As new tools are developed, cybercriminals are finding new ways to exploit popular websites. Brands are beginning to look at how they can minimise the risks of domain name infringement, and how they can protect consumers in order to maintain customer loyalty and trust. They are also investigating how they increase the impact and reach of their domain portfolio, including international factors, whilst minimising the level of risk. This may include registering domains within new gTLDs or ccTLDs (country-code top level domain) that are relevant to their brands, and exploring the target markets for those TLDs and whether they’d be interested in their products or services.

The cost of cybercriminals

Cybercriminals have and will take advantage of any TLD. According to Accenture Security’s 2019 ‘The Cost of Cybercrime’ annual report, the number of phishing and social engineering strikes has increased by 16 per cent year over year, rising to 85 per cent in 2019. As a result, many domain registry operators have created new methods and mechanisms to help companies prevent these criminals from taking advantage of vulnerabilities. This can now be achieved by blocking any new domain registration (within a specified TLD) which matches or is similar to a brands trademark.

The global cost of cybercrime is predicted to rise to $6 trillion by 2021. Whilst in the past, some of these violations may have been less detrimental, brands are now being taken advantage of at greater speeds with even bigger risks. IT professionals are struggling to keep up with these online criminals as they are managing to hack domains registered under legitimate and widely used TLDs such as .com, .net and .org. Nowadays, even maintaining a safeguarded domain can be considerably more difficult with cybercriminals becoming increasingly more sophisticated.

From phishing outbreaks to the open nature of HTML and CSS, criminals can create sites and emails that not only look similar to branded sites but also include legitimate links to trick consumers into thinking it’s trustworthy. They can go even further than this by holding authorised security certificates. For example, SSL certificates are great for brands who want to sell their products online and provide a safe experience for their customers. However, the majority of SSL certificates issued are domain validated, meaning the SSL provider only validates the owner of the domain name which the SSL is to be used on. This allows raiders to abuse these highly beneficial certificates, and blend their destructive websites within the more established brands.

Protecting your brand

Trademark infringement is on the rise as cybercriminals are reaching high levels of intelligence. Previous tools that have been designed to make brands' online appearance more visually appealing and user friendly have unfortunately become more vulnerable to hackers, allowing them to exploit these features. In addition, many brand assets, such as security certificates that make the company more trustworthy, are the same features that these hackers try to misuse.

For brands to protect themselves from strikers trying to exploit their assets, they must try to adopt domain blocking techniques where possible. Businesses with any sort of identification, trademark or reputation that needs to be maintained, should view domain blocking as a necessity. The more popular the brand is, the more valuable it is to those looking to use it to their advantage. This increases the risk of someone wanting to intrude it, therefore the importance of protecting it becomes even greater.

In an age where brand protection is king, businesses need to ensure they have the right measures in place to protect their online reputation. By guarding your brand, you are actively helping to remove proactive threats, as well as adding something advantageous to a brands marketing strategy. Businesses that are in control over their reputation show professionalism, and will, therefore, increase customer loyalty and trust.

Crina Vele, Brand Protection Manager, Safenames