UK registry to clarify domain name suspension rules

At the suggestion of law enforcers, Nominet is investigating writing a clearer suspension policy

The U.K.'s domain name registry is examining its policies around suspending domain names, a move occasionally undertaken in order to prevent criminal activity on the Internet.

Nominet, which oversees ".co.uk" and ".uk," plans to hold its first meeting in the next few weeks with stakeholders including police, government bodies and commercial trade groups, said director of operations Ellie Bradley.

The registry was asked by the U.K.'s Serious Organised Crime Agency to examine its policy. SOCA said that "Nominet does not have any clear obligation" in its terms and conditions that a domain name should not be used for illegal activity, in contrast with other registries, according to a SOCA document.

SOCA would like to Nominet to include firmer language in its contracts with registrars, which are companies contracted to sell ".co.uk" domain names.

Police authorities increasingly want Nominet and the registrars to respond quickly to requests to suspend domain names, something the registry already does in response to formal requests, the SOCA document said.

"This policy would formalize that process," Bradley said.

Nominet and its registrars have suspended domain names in the past: At the request of the Police Central e-Crime Unit, another U.K. agency that deals with cybercrime, Nominet pulled 1,200 domain names used predominantly for marketing counterfeit goods, Bradley said.

Usually, if a Web site is connected with illegal activity, the ISP is notified and the connection is cut off. But the person who owns a domain name can simply find a new ISP and get their site up and running again.

Blocking a domain name forces a cybercriminal to register a new one in order to continue operating. But it's not an entirely effective way to block criminal activity, since many cybercriminals register large numbers of domain names. If one domain is blacklisted, a new name is used until that one is also blocked, and the cycle continues.

But if the domain name in question attracts lots of organic search traffic, blocking it could make it harder for a fraudster to find one that is as effective in drawing traffic.

"We are well aware we are never going to be able to respond to all crime on the Internet but we can try to protect against it," Bradley said. "People will always find ways and means but that does not necessarily mean it's the right thing to simply ignore it."

Bradley said Nominet will hold a meeting in the next few weeks with stakeholders to discuss how its terms and conditions could be modified. But she stressed the process is in its "very early stages." Nominet is also inviting input from the public.

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