ICANN to Open Domains, Web Address Extensions

Applications for receiving new generic top-level domains begin this week, with a deadline of March to begin applications.

ICANN, the organization responsible for managing and coordinating the Domain Name System (DNS) to ensure that every address is unique and that all users of the Internet can find all valid addresses, announced its continued intent to open up the DNS with new generic top-level domains (TLDs), with one of the categories of top-level domains that would include brand names and other words.

The controversial decision could add more than 1,000 Internet suffixes (.sport, .Microsoft, etc.) each year.

Applications for receiving New gTLDs begin this week, with a deadline of March to begin applications. Although the program has been in development at ICANN for six years and has received support from many major corporations (including Canon) and large cities like Berlin and London, which would pay a $185,000 processing fee for the premium domain branding opportunity, the organization has come under heavy criticism from bodies like the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), which proposed to the ICANN Board a constructive way to address critical concerns associated with ICANN's top-level domain expansion program.

In a detailed letter to Stephen D. Crocker, ICANN's chairman of the board, ANA President and CEO Bob Liodice proposed that commercial stakeholders concerned about protecting their brands be given the opportunity to have those brands registered, without cost, on a temporary "Do Not Sell" list to be maintained by ICANN during the first application round. However, Liodice also backed ICANN's plan to begin accepting applications for new TLDs on Jan. 12, as scheduled.

In addition to the proposed solution, the ANA letter lays out a timeline from November 2011 to the present during which more than 25 major public statements have been made and significant events have transpired, all underscoring the breadth and depth of opposition to ICANN's top-level domain program.

These include hearings by committees of the U.S. House and Senate, letters from federal policymakers, statements by prominent Internet community leaders and security experts, and letters from U.S. and international non-governmental groups and business organizations.

"Never before has ICANN faced this level of public scrutiny," said Liodice. "We hope ICANN will accept this simple, temporary solution to address the serious concerns expressed by so many constituencies."

Avivah Litan, a vice president and distinguished analyst at IT research firm Gartner, said the new ICANN arrangement for opening up new domains and Web addresses that becomes effective this week will be a boon for cyber-criminals and generate even more cyber-attacks.

"This will make it much easier for hackers to phish or spoof consumers (and thereby deliver malware to endpoints and/or collect sensitive information) because they can make use of unlimited choices to spoof known brands - meaning consumers will have a much harder time knowing what's real and what isn't," Litan wrote in a company blog post.

She also warned it will be exponentially harder to detect the spoof site using customer feedback mechanisms, making it that much harder to take them down since they won't be identified as quickly. That will make brand protection much costlier because there is exponentially more to monitor. "While it will cost enterprises precious resources to adopt these services, it's time for them to start looking outside their firewalls in order to protect their assets and users," Litan wrote.