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ITWeb TV: ZADNA works to defeat domain name abuse

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 07 Jun 2024
ZADNA CEO Molehe Wesi tells ITWeb TV about the clampdown on domain name impersonation, the growth of domain registrations, efforts to become a smart regulator, as well and some of the entity's tech advantages. #domain #zadna #itwebtv

South Africa now has well above 1.3 million commercially-registered .ZA domain names, which speaks to the continuing growth of the local internet ecosystem.

This is according to Molehe Wesi, CEO of the .ZA Domain Name Authority (ZADNA), in an interview with ITWeb TV.

Wesi detailed how ZADNA deals with the rising challenge of website spoofing, the growth of local domain name registrations, as well as the organisation’s efforts to become a smart regulator.

While it’s unclear how many non-commercial domain names there are, given the fluctuating numbers, Wesi said school.za is the most prominent. This domain emerged because the authority started registering school.za as a result of its other initiatives.

Another prominent domain is ac.za, which includes higher learning institutions, research councils and private higher learning institutions.

“Their number is quite sizeable…but the growth is not as immense as commercially-registered domains.”

He noted there is a drive to register the majority of quintile one to three schools, which constitute most of the school population, and also to ensure learners in those schools have e-mail addresses.

Molehe Wesi, CEO of .ZA Domain Name Authority. (Photograph by Lesley Moyo)
Molehe Wesi, CEO of .ZA Domain Name Authority. (Photograph by Lesley Moyo)

An entity of the communications ministry, ZADNA manages the domain namespace policies for commercial and non-commercial second-level domains through the accreditation of those registries and registrars without their licensing, per the prescripts of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act.

Its mandate is to offer guidance around the .za namespace and ensure its efficient use, management and administration, while its commercial registry partner ZARC manages domains like co.za, net.za, org.za and web.za.

As part of its work, ZADNA also assists in prohibiting the misuse of domains, especially during the electoral period. However, the organisation’s role doesn’t necessarily focus on misinformation, disinformation or fake news during the campaigning process, explained the CEO.

“What usually happens is that people start registering these domains and using them for illicit activities around the electoral period.”

Most of the queries ZADNA receives are referred to its sister entities: ICASA and the Film and Publication Board. “These fall right within their domain and they are mandated legislatively to deal with misinformation, from platforms or from any other entity using any other channel they regulate.

“We look at anyone registering anything that’s a bit ‘funny’ from a domain side; for example, imitating one of the political parties. They would use that domain to share misinformation. Outside of the electoral period, it would be registering a domain in the likeness of an entity…to get money or solicit information from the victim.”

Explaining the recourse in such instances, Wesi said if the crime has already been committed, the victim must open a case with the South African Police Service.

“On the regulator side, which is ZADNA, you can engage us via our various communication channels. You can also engage the registry [ZARC], which manages the commercial side of things. It also has a means to allow citizens to engage them if they’ve been defrauded.

“Alternatively, you can go directly to a registrar, which could have registered the name on behalf of that person who committed the crime.”

Future-forward

ZADNA is working towards being a smart regulator, revealed Wesi, explaining this entails re-engineering processes internally, ensuring the organisation exceeds expectation and optimises internal processes.

“We want to make sure that if another pandemic like COVID-19 happens, we will still be able to deliver value to our citizens and do that while we mature our governance controls and processes.”

The organisation has 19 employees, an increase from about seven or eight people when the CEO joined. He commented that the number of staff members for its current functions work, for now.

“One wants to do more…the changes within the internet ecosystem demand certain functions, so it’s quite important to have those functions well within the legislation that we currently have, to protect and raise consumer awareness and other technical areas.

“The gaps we are experiencing are on the regulatory side, where we will need more capacity, especially as we head into finalising the regulations, reviewing policy, etc. On the PR and marketing side, we need more capacity as well to drive various campaigns.”

Wesi said while there’s no specific ballpark figure for an ideal budget, it should be sufficient to allow ZADNA to reach a population of people aged 16 to 64 years.

“The rationale behind this is it allows us to engage those that are either preparing to be part of the workforce, or those that are transitioning out. This is important because they need to understand what benefits the namespace holds for them.

“A 16-year-old today might be the 35-year-old that leads a conglomerate [in the future]. They need to understand the importance of owning a .za domain name versus the other ones.”

Wesi encouraged having websites with local domain names, saying this is a sign of patriotism.

“As much as a business can have presence on social media…these present a lot of innovative scams. You don’t know who you’re talking to, or the person behind the picture. This is not to say that when you have a domain you would know, but at least it can be tracked and traced better.”

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