- The Internet address universe is expanding.
- New security challenges must be weighed against giving customers a more personalized experience.
After six years of debate, ICANN, the Internet global domain name manager, has thrown open the gates and set the price bar ($185,000) for any legal entity to acquire its own generic top-level domain name (gTLD). Examples include company brands and geographic locations below the country level (typically city names). These also include suffixes using non-Latin and non-ASCII characters, specific product category names and general activity terms such as sports or .music. This can become a real cash cow for the non-profit ICANN, which expects to receive between 1,000 and 1,500 applications: about two-thirds for ‘dot-brand’ gTLDs such as Hitachi (.hitachi), Canon (.canon) and Deloitte (.deloitte), and 10% from .dot cities such as London, New York and Las Vegas. However, the TLD universe has been expanding for some time now. In 2009, ICANN launched IDN (internationalized domain name) TLDs with non-Latin alphabets (the first being a group of Arabic names for the countries of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates).
From a security perspective, an open-ended expansion of the TLD name universe may create more venues for phishing, fraud and cybersquatting exploits, as users face a barrage of new Internet addresses. The end user might initially shy away from such a gTLD if there is any e-commerce or personal information involved. New gTLD owners will have to do a lot of customer educating in such instances. This may also increase corporate legal costs if companies see the need to acquire their ‘dot-brand’ TLD in order to protect their brand. Moreover, intergovernmental organisations (the UN, the World Intellectual Property Organisation, the World Health Organisation, etc.) have voiced concerns over having their identities purloined. To avoid this, ICANN has a serious applicant vetting procedure (coupled with a price tag that should keep the script kiddies away), as well as trademark protection mechanisms to obviate the need for defensive gTLD purchases. However, these mechanisms are arguably not as strong as the ICM Registry policies behind the recently launched .xxx gTLD.
The gTLD universe expansion comes at a time when we are also preparing to shift Internet users to IPv6 addressing over the next 10 years, and Internet growth is migrating from Latin/ASCII-based North America and Europe to the logogram-dominated markets of the Far East. So, if the Internet was not a wild enough virtual space already, it is now set to get a lot more multi-cultural and personal in the years ahead. ICANN policies will be watched closely and Web sites involved in e-commerce or handling personal information will need to review their security policies and procedures if they opt to enter this brave new world. For commercial companies, the upside is clearly acquiring the ability to provide customers with easier, more customized access to corporate resources. So, who is going to jump on board and gain first-mover advantages?