Train Wreck Ahead: National Advertisers, PayPal, and Verisign Point to Major Internet Dangers

April 2, 2013

The start of the new month marks the final countdown to the impending deployment of potentially more than 1,400 new web site suffixes, which, according to Verisign, PayPal, and other major companies, poses significant threats to brands and consumer protections. On April 23, ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) will launch new generic top level domain names (gTLDs). This date was set totally arbitrarily by Fadi Chehadé, the CEO of ICANN, and it is now apparent that preparations for this deployment are woefully inadequate.

Verisign (the largest domain provider, which stands to benefit financially from the gTLD deployment) and PayPal (the leading global online payment processor that is continually subject to internet fraud issues) are the latest major companies to warn that extremely serious internet security and stability issues will be significantly heightened with the introduction of the new web domains. (See: Verisign white paper and PayPal Letter).

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA), representing the interests of major global advertisers, has long expressed its concerns about the rush to deploy these gTLDs before ICANN has adopted sufficient protections for consumers and brandholders.

One of the greatest concerns is ICANN’s failure to release specifications regarding its Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH).  Verisign stated, for example,  that the “absence of any clear commitment for when the specifications and the TMCH will be available for integration testing and when it will be live precludes organizations from proceeding with planning, scheduling, development and normal business planning and associated communications with customers." Without this information, organizations are unable to integrate their operations with ICANN’s system, and their millions of customers are the ones who will face harm.  In another area, internal company intranet certifications have been issued for .corp, .mail, and other domains, which are expected to mirror the names of many new TLDs.  VeriSign and PayPal have identified that name clashes could occur between external new gTLD name requests and existing internal company operations.   Clearly, the implications would be very serious if hackers tried to interrupt corporate communications from companies that serve critical functions (such as defense contractors, financial services, and public utilities).  

Nevertheless, ICANN moves relentlessly forward toward the April 23rd launch date, while ignoring the concerns voiced by those within and outside ICANN’s own operations.  To date, Fadi Chehadé continues to publicly dismiss concerns raised by industry experts. He has suggested that these concerns have been “discussed at length.”  But that’s like the Captain of the Titanic before the crash saying that the dangers of icebergs had been discussed for years.  Until clear answers are forthcoming that detail how ICANN intends to avoid the dangers spotlighted in these reports, launching the program would be ill-advised, and even reckless. Ultimately, ICANN’s premature launch of gTLDs will yield cybersquatting and phishing, among many other cybercrime threats that jeopardize brand and consumer protections. Adequate steps have not been taken to protect internet users, and we are headed toward uncharted waters with major danger to consumers, brandholders, and the internet itself.  The only prudent action for ICANN now is to delay this arbitrary domain name roll-out until it has fixed these very serious problems.

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