Pandemic, Domain Industry and COVID-19 Related Domain Names
The coronavirus pandemic has become one of the biggest global crises we have seen. Hundreds of millions of people have been affected by the pandemic. It also affected almost all the business world, started to change ways of doing business.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we were thinking about how it might affect the domain industry: domain name registrations, domain sales, the abuse of domain names and so. The pandemic is not over yet, but I would like to give a brief summary of the last three months of the domain industry, in terms of the pandemic.
Domain Name Registrations
It seems domain registrations are not much affected by the pandemic. We looked at the last 15 months’ domain registration counts to understand if there is an indication of a decrease or increase. The number of domain registrations was not changed seriously because of the pandemic.
|wdt_ID||DATE||TOTAL gTLD REGISTRATIONS||.COM REGISTRATIONS|
(*May 2020: As of May 15, 2020)
We also wanted to check only .com registrations to better understand the trend. Because it’s known that the price of new generic top-level extensions is decreased to a very low amount or they are given for free, some time. So it’s possible that there are some “unnatural” increases in some months. When we look at the extension statistics, we saw that more than 1.26 million .icu domain names were registered in November 2019. This number constitutes 20% of all .icu registrations. So, this is exactly what we said.
As you can see above, there is no major change over time for .com domain registrations. On the contrary, the number of registrations is increasing month over month in the last 4 months.
Another remarkable point, as we said in April 2020’s Domain Industry Report, is the growth of Wix and other website builders. Wix was one of the most used registrars last month, and that shows us the domain names registered there will be used as websites. It means more people or companies have started doing online business during the pandemic.
Domain Name Sales
In order to understand the effects of the pandemic to the domain aftermarket, we analyzed the domain sales of the last 15 months by using Namebio.com’s domain sales records. We looked at the number of domain sales over $10,000 and over $50,000 for each month starting from March 2019.
|wdt_ID||DATE||DOMAIN SALES OVER $10,000||DOMAIN SALES OVER $50,000|
(*May 2020: As of May 15, 2020)
The average number of domain sales over $10,000 is 102 monthly, and over $50,000 is 11 monthly. Of course, this number depends on so many factors such as season. If we compare the months of March, April and May to the same months of the previous year, we see that domain name sales increase for each month in 2020. (You may want to check Top Domain Sales of April 2020.)
Actions Taken by Domain Industry Companies
Some domain name registries, registrars, and marketplaces have taken actions during the pandemic against the abuse of domain names. Some registrars and registries also announced their support for the customers that were affected financially.
Domain Name Registrars
Some major domain name registrars started to prevent the registrations of COVID-19 related domain names because of the increase of bad usages of such domain names.
This prevention started after the letter sent by the USA, New York Attorney General. The letter sent to a number of domain name registrars including GoDaddy.com, Dynadot.com, Name.com, Namecheap.com, and Registrar.com, as well as the Endurance International Group, which owns Bluehost.com, Domain.com, and HostGator.com, in an effort to “stop the registration and use of internet domain names by individuals trying to unlawfully and fraudulently profit off consumers’ fears around the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).”
According to the letter sent to GoDaddy, the NYAG (State of New York Office of the Attorney General) wanted GoDaddy to explain what kind of actions taken by the registrar to prevent scams. Also, some actions suggested to registrars to take as below:
- The use of automated and human review of domain name registration and traffic patterns to identify fraud.
- Human review of complaints from the public and law enforcement about fraudulent or illegal use of coronavirus domains, including creating special channels for such complaints.
- Revising your terms of service to reserve aggressive enforcement for the illegal use of coronavirus domains.
- De-registration of the domains cited in the articles identified above that were registered at GoDaddy and any holds in place on registering new domains related to coronavirus, or similar blockers that prevent rapid registration of coronavirus-related domains.
After this letter was sent, most of the registrars announced what they do against COVID19 related scams. Some of the registrars such as Namecheap started to block domain registrations related to COVID19 and some others such as GoDaddy kept relying on their abuse reporting system.
Besides the domain registrars .UK registry Nominet said that it has added keywords such as “coronavirus” and “covid” to its Domain Watch initiative, the same semi-automated system it uses to flag and suspends phishing and “rape” domains preemptively at point of registration.
Another registry-level action came from the Domain Name Commission of .NZ. The Commission published a post titled “COVID-19, WHOIS and combatting .nz domain name system abuse.” and explained they are actively monitoring .nz domain registrations in order to make sure no pandemic-related online harm or scam happens in the .nz namespace.
Domain Name Marketplaces
Domain name marketplaces such as Sedo and Dan.com prevented the sale of COVID19 related domain names on their platforms.
Sedo published a blog post titled “Tragedy and disease domain registrations: Just don’t do it!” and said “Sedo, among other marketplaces, has decided to blacklist the trading of these types of Coronavirus domains from its marketplace.”
DAN.com also made an announcement and said “Starting from today, we will be removing all CoronaVirus related domains from dan.com. We’re seeing astronomical high prices being asked for these domains and find that unethical and unacceptable.”
Support Against Financial Difficulties
Several domain registries such as Verisign, the registry of .com and .net, announced they will not charge for late renewal (restore fee) of domain names. As you might know, the fee of late renewal is much higher than the normal renewal.
Namecheap was offering financial support to its customers in terms of payments. Anybody needing help was able to open a support ticket and ask for help.
101Domain.com also announced the same thing to its customers. In the blog post written by the CEO of the company, Anthony M. Beltran, the listed as below:
- “No restore fee for selected domain renewals past the expiration time.”
- “Price reduction for specific domain extensions.”
- “Temporary discounts on certain renewal fees.”
Number of Fraudulent Domain Names Has Increased
Crisis or not, cybercriminals are continuing to scam. We see a huge increase in domain registrations related to these keywords; corona, covid, mask, and vaccine.
Of course we can not say all of the domain names registered with these keywords are suspicious but we can say the majority was used for malicious things. This can be seen by looking at domain blacklists.
Because of the enormous increase in usage of online services, the registration of fraudulent domain names used for attacking online services’ customers also increased. Zoom and Netflix are two of the most targeted brands with the banks.
We also see some other “malicious” domain registrations not seem directly related to the pandemic. However, they have been used to distribute malware, especially against mobile phones. More than 100 thousand domain names were registered in the last two months for that purpose. These domain names have been started to use immediately after registration and use the same websites/kits to cheat people.
One of the most used keywords was “20gb” and used like this: 20gb-free-internet.com. It’s said on these websites that: “Telecom operators or the governments give away 20gb of the Internet for free because of the pandemic. If you download the app to your phone and give permission to it, your free Internet will be defined to your account automatically.” In most cases, mobile apps were being automatically downloaded to your mobile device without any permission.
What do you think about the effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic on the domain and web industry?
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