Life as a Domain Name Registrar in a World of Internet Bad Guys

Don Tennant
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Last week, I wrote about how Rightside Group, a domain name services provider in Kirkland, Wash., has secured several dozen new generic top-level domains (TLDs), betting that extensions like .family and .video are the wave of the future. Another dimension of Rightside’s business that warrants attention has to do with the trials and tribulations of operating as a domain name registrar in a world where spammers, malware producers, and other Internet bad guys are flourishing.

What raised my curiosity about this aspect of the company’s business was having read the transcript of Rightside’s Q4 2015 quarterly earnings call. According to the transcript on Seeking Alpha, Rightside CEO Taryn Naidu identified China as the country that produces the highest number of registrations for Rightside’s generic TLDs. I found that interesting, given China’s reputation as a bastion of malicious Internet activity.

In my recent interview with Naidu, I asked him for his assessment of the likelihood that bad guys in China are exploiting Rightside’s services for nefarious purposes.


“The thing we love about the way we built our registry business is we have best-in-class compliance services,” Naidu said. “So if there is any abuse of domain names in our ecosystem, they’re shut down immediately. We don’t see a high level of abuse specifically from China.”

If Rightside did see a high level of abuse in China, Naidu said, the abusive sites would be shut down.

“We are working with high-quality partners over there, like Alibaba, to distribute domains to their consumers,” he said. “Being the registry, we have the information on whether there’s any sort of malware or spam issues that are happening. We get alerts, and immediately would shut those down.”

Naidu’s response about having best-in-class compliance services surprised me, because it seemed to fly in the face of data collected by URIBL.com, a site that maintains a list of the top 100 abused or abusive domain registrars. ENom.com, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rightside that operates as the company’s wholesale arm to work with domain name resellers around the world, is No. 2 on the list. Name.com, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rightside that operates as a B2C retail business, is No. 11 on the list. When I last checked, eNom.com had registered 1,707 blacklisted sites, or 21.27 percent of the sites it had registered; and Name.com had registered 221 blacklisted sites, which amounted to 22.3 percent.

When I asked Naidu about that, he chalked it up to faulty information being supplied by compliance monitoring sites like URIBL.

“We work with a lot of the different compliance companies on the Internet, and I think at one point we were listed as the No. 1 malware provider on the Internet,” he said. “What we’ve found in that industry, and a big thing we’ve been working on, is once they flag a domain for malicious activity, that flag is never removed. So if a new consumer registers a domain name because somebody did something [malicious] before, and it was deleted, and it’s now [made available again], that domain will still look like it’s bad. So what we’ve been doing is working with a lot of these guys, giving them access to our ecosystem, and letting them realize, ‘Wait a minute, there’s nothing here.’ So when we worked through this with an organization a couple of years ago, they realized that 99.9 percent of their information was wrong.”

Naidu said Rightside has undertaken a similar effort with respect to illegal online pharmacies.

“This is not just a domain problem—it crosses domains, hosting, credit card processing, search engines,” Naidu said. “So we set up a process where we started working with FedEx, Google, Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, and said, ‘Hey, guys, let’s work together—let’s create an organization, and let’s make sure that people can’t buy ads for illegal online pharmacies. Let’s make sure that we aren’t collecting payment; let’s make sure that their names are shut down.’”

Unfortunately, Naidu said, there are a number of other industries that operate with nefarious goals, as well.

“So I think we have to do a better job of working together, because we all don’t want this bad activity to happen,” he said. “We work closely with the FBI, with a bunch of different organizations, to make sure that this activity is shut down.”

A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.



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