COVID-19, WHOIS and combatting .nz domain name system abuse
Part one of a two part blog feature about COVID-19 and .nz.
More than 400 COVID-19 related .nz domain names were registered in March-May 2020 and available to look up through a WHOIS search. The Domain Name Commission has monitored these registrations closely to make sure no pandemic-related online harm or scam happens in the .nz namespace.
Here’s what we learned over the last couple months.
COVID-19 related .nz domain registrations in March-May
26,165 .nz domain names were registered between 1 March and 11 May.
Over 422 of these registrations included COVID-19 related terms and most of them were registered during Alert Level 4 lockdown in the last weeks of March. Meaning coronavirus-related .nz domains registrations represent 1.6 percent of all new registrations in this period.
The Domain Name Commission has been capturing COVID-19 domain registration data on March 1 - May 11. We have studied newly created domains which included many of the following terms: COVID, corona, virus, mask, test, c19, covid19, coronavirus, mask, clean, lockdown, protection, screen, tracking, tracing, sanitiser, protect, distancing, c-19, PPE.
As part of our monitoring efforts, we have run a scan over 303 COVID-19 related domains to assess their technical status and understand how, if at all, they are being used. The scan showed that at least 41% (or 127 domains) had functioning web content.
The rest are either not in use, have an ‘under-construction’ web page, do not work, or display other forms of technical error. Domain names not in use are unlikely to harm anybody right now, but that could change at any moment.
Domain name suspensions
Our domain name suspension initiative is a mixture of manual and algorithmic processes. It helps us to identify new .nz domains that likely have fake registration details associated with illegitimate online activity. Those that look suspicious based on our algorithms and a manual check are at risk of suspension unless we are provided with supporting information that domain name holders are real people or legitimate companies.
Between March 1 and May 8 we have suspended 297 domain names. 102 of them have been associated with keywords related to COVID-19. Meaning suspensions of COVID-19 related .nz domain names made up 34% of the overall suspension rate during that period.
However, numbers tell us that most people were getting themselves online legitimately: only 1.1% of all domains registered between March 1 and May 8 were suspended for various reasons.
Domain names for good
A lesson we learned from the Christchurch terrorism event, is at times of national significance many New Zealanders want to help, including registering a domain name for good. Meaning the majority of domain names are registered for lawful and legitimate purposes. We’ve seen .nz domains related to COVID-19 support groups, volunteering, and at home injury reduction.
Nevertheless, each week we proactively and transparently released newly registered COVID-19 related validated domain names. We did it to reduce the risk of online harm during a serious and imminent public health crisis, and to let the local Internet community know that we’re watching this space for any sign of unwelcomed online activity.
Since the country went into lockdown we’ve managed to combat any big upswing in registrations of COVID-19 related .nz domain names and associated with them email and website scams and other illegal activity.
The majority of New Zealand registrants are continuing to act responsibly and register .nz domain names to promote an Internet for good.
The Commission will keep monitoring the .nz domain namespace closely to keep it safe and trusted, both during the pandemic and beyond.
Next week will be releasing part 2 of our blog highlighting our international and local multi stakeholder approach to keeping .nz safe.