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A domain by any other name

Those last few letters of an Internet address say so much about the owner of that Web site.

Johannesburg, 26 Nov 2019
Read time 7min 40sec
Angel Selebano, Communication and Awareness, .ZA Domain Name Authority
Angel Selebano, Communication and Awareness, .ZA Domain Name Authority

As the Internet evolves, it presents individuals – and businesses – with new and exciting ways of communicating. Today, your first port of call before doing business with a company is to look them up online. If you are a brand or a business and do not have an online presence, you stand a good chance of not being seen and found by your potential customers.

Online presence is imperative because it creates easy worldwide access. When using a .ZA domain name, online users recognise that you are South African and have some presence in South Africa.

Angel Selebano, Communications and Awareness at ZADNA (.ZA Domain Name Authority), explains why domain name registration is important and why every business should have one: “An online presence is essential for businesses’ marketing and branding efforts. It provides them with an online identity, it gives them the ability to attract customers online, and it provides online brand visibility and exposure.”

However, as the saying goes, you have to be in it to win it, and if your business doesn’t have an online presence, all of the aforementioned information is moot. Which brings us to domain name registration.

A domain name is a key component of connecting people through the Internet. Market appetite for innovative and relevant domain names is growing, leading to a commensurate growth in the number of new domain names. The challenge locally is that fewer than 2% of the overall population are choosing .ZA as their preferred online presence or identity for commercial use.

A .ZA domain name could be co.za, web.za, net.za or org.za. Having a country code extension, like .ZA, not only helps identify where your business is situated, it also helps localise your operation for potential customers in South Africa. Businesses with a .ZA domain name are more relevant and appealing to millions of South Africans. However, the entry of more and more top level domains (the letters after the final dot in an Internet address) poses a huge threat to the growth of the South African domain namespace.

There are economic and commercial benefits aligned with registering a .ZA domain name, for example, it contributes to the South African economy, creating a pool of funds that can be used for digital economy inclusion projects that benefit start-ups and SMEs by unlocking their economic potential in the domain name registration business and accelerating the creation of new players within the Internet service provider (ISP) industry.

Selebano says: “Ultimately, we’d like to increase the number of youth- and women-owned registrars and resellers in all provinces.”

Domain name fraud

Domain name scams are on the rise and fraudulent domain names pose a threat to brands and the community at large. Many legitimate businesses have been affected by an increasing number of fraudulent or abusive domain names. These fraudulent activities are detrimental to brands for a number of reasons, including damage to the brand's identity and/or reputation. Domain name scammers are constantly creating domain names that are misleading to the general public and, in most cases, the intent is to defraud a potential customer.

According to Selebano: “In South Africa, there’s an ongoing trend of fraudsters impersonating well-known brands by registering a domain name that is similar to that of an authentic brand. For instance, a scammer creates a Web site that mimics a particular government department and calls for tender submissions from unsuspecting businesses. Furthermore, they use government departmental letterheads to send fake tender documents to potential bidders.”

The good news is that businesses that have a .ZA domain name benefit from increased security. The .ZA domain has adopted the DNSSEC (Domain Name System Security Extensions) protocol that helps the business to protect the integrity of its Web site – while also protecting the privacy of its users.

Selebano says: “It’s our responsibility to ensure that registered .ZA domain names don’t violate any individual’s human rights, don’t pose a threat to a particular brand’s image and reputation, and that we combat online crimes that are conducted through .ZA second level domains (SLD)”. An SLD is the section of a domain name that is to the left of the dot, for example gov.za.

Identifying fraudulent domain names can prove tricky, but there are warning signs that one can look out for, says Selebano.

How to spot an abusive domain name

1. Domain name (URL), eg, dpw.gov.za not dpw-gove.co.za.

2. Use WHOIS to find out how long a Web site has been in use.

3. Look for spelling and grammar mistakes.

4. Test the contact information on the Web site.

5. A legitimate and secure domain name, like zadna.org.za, will have HTTPS on the URL and a lock icon, see the below example.

If you are aware of a domain name that is used for malicious or fraudulent purposes, you may be able to lodge a takedown notice to have that site removed from the Internet.

Complaints around co.za, org.za, web.za and net.za domains can be lodged with the ZA Central Registry (ZACR) here.

For .ZA Web sites that are hosted by local Internet service providers (ISPs) who are members of the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA), complaints can be lodged here.

Should a dispute arise over a domain name, there is a process that can be followed. Firstly, a complaint has to be laid with an accredited ADR (alternative dispute resolution) provider by the complainant. There is a set amount of time in which the respondent has to reply. The complaint then moves on to mediation by ZADNA. If the issue is not resolved, an adjudicator can be appointed to decide on the matter. Both parties have the right of appeal, following which the final decision is reached to either transfer, cancel or suspend the domain name, or to fulfil the terms of the agreement between the two parties.

The process allows trademark and brand owners to prevent cyber squatters from registering names that are similar to their trademarks and brands and that may potentially mislead Internet users. More than 300 domain names have been transferred to their rightful owners since 2007.

Further details of the .ZA accredited ADR providers can be obtained here.

What constitutes an abusive practice or use of a domain name?

  • Distribution of child pornography.
  • Phishing: The use of counterfeit Web sites to commit theft or fraud by tricking recipients into divulging sensitive information such as user names or passwords.
  • Pharming: The redirection of unknown users to fraudulent sites or services, typically through DNS hijacking or poisoning.
  • Fraudulent Web sites: The use of Web sites designed to mislead users as part of a fraudulent scheme, such as an ‘advance fee fraud’.
  • Wilful distribution of malware: The dissemination of software designed to infiltrate or damage a computer system without the owner’s informed consent. Examples include but are not limited to computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses, key loggers.
  • Malicious fast flux hosting: Use of fast flux techniques to disguise the location of Web sites or other Internet services, or to avoid detection and mitigation efforts, or to host illegal activities. Fast flux techniques use DNS to frequently change the location on the Internet to which the domain name of an Internet host or name server resolves.
  • Botnet command and control: Services run on a domain name that is used to control a collection of compromised computers or “zombies”, or to direct denial-of-service attacks (DDOS attacks).
  • Spam: The use of electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited bulk messages, whether commercial in nature or not, and whether transmitted by e-mail, instant messaging, Web site or Internet forums, or by any other means.
  • Illegal access to other computers or networks: Illegal accessing of computers, accounts or networks belonging to another party, or attempting to penetrate security measures of a system to which access has not been granted.

Selebano concludes: “The Internet is a communication enabler that knows no geographical boundaries. It must be used as an enhancement for communication and business operations; not to be used as a tool to conduct offensive activities such as abusive domain name registration and cyber-bullying, etc. We need to protect our namespace from online fraud activities that are conducted through the use of .ZA domains.”

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