5 Ways to Protect Your Domain Name From Cyber Threats

Cyber security is no longer the job of just the IT department; it’s everyone’s job to be educated on preventive security measures. In a report by ICANN, an organization that defines protocol and policies for domain names and numbers functions on the Internet, they said:

One thing is clear — every business, every government, every organization that uses the Internet in its day-to-day operations is vulnerable.”

Domain names are yet another target for cyber criminals to capture you and your customer’s personal and private information through phishing, spam or malware tactics.  

While registering a new domain name is generally safe, there still needs to be some due diligence on your part to add more layers of protection. For those that already have a domain name, or are looking to transfer/buy a used one, take note of these security measures to protect your brand and ranking.

History, Penalties and Spam, Oh My!

Any domain name you wish to purchase (new, or used), make sure to check out the domain history and its previous owner by using the WHOIS function at a reputable registrar.

“WHOIS is a query and response protocol that can be used to obtain information (name, address, and an email address) about a domain name’s owner,” said Ville Salminen, entrepreneur and founder of Cordcutting.com and Flixable.

If the domain has been red flagged for spam, given a penalty, or used for something unrelated to your business, you’re going to have an uphill battle with gaining traction and rankings online right from the beginning.

David Mercer, founder of SME PALS advises to “research the domain history [prior to purchase] to see what the domain was used for; reputable registrar sites will have this service available.”

You may have your heart set on a domain name, but a word of caution from Mercer: if there is a penalty attached to the domain name, it might be a challenge for Google to remove it regardless of who owns it next.

“Google doesn’t want to make it easy for spammers to recover so they aren’t simply going to lift the penalty because it ‘looks’ like someone new has taken it over – otherwise spammers would get very good at doing precisely that,” Mercer said.

Digging into the archives could save you a mound of headaches. Check your domain name at reputable registrar sites such as .ME with the WHOIS function, DomainTools and Waybackmachine.

Does Google Like it?

Keeping your SEO at a top-notch level is key for your rankings on Google and other search engines. Mercer suggests to dig a little deeper and find out if the domain name has been indexed previously by Google.

See if [a domain name was] indexed by Google by using a site operator’s [search function.] This will give you a good bit of insight into how Google currently views that domain. If it existed before and not indexed at all, then that is probably a good sign that Google has removed it entirely.”

Hyper-Focused on Security

When you’re looking to purchase a domain name, going with a reputable registrar with experience that is hyper-focused on security protocol can add another layer of protection to your domain. They can also offer additional services, such as SSL certificates and privacy protection, to protect against spammers.

“It’s essential to use a well-known, reputable domain registrar, because possible attacks for stealing your new domain name will be attacks against the registrar. When you register a new domain name, the registrar locks the domain automatically. With an SSL certificate, your site will be safer for your visitors to use,” Salminen said.

There are different types of SSL certificates depending on how many domains you want to secure and the cost ranges from $40 to $100. These SSL certificates encrypt the data transferred through the HTTP and make it safer for your customers to use.

Google has also encouraged site owners to use HTTPs over HTTP which is a secure version of HTTP.

Something New vs. Something Old

When you decide to purchase a domain name from a previous owner, it could become terribly expensive. Also, you need to know who you’re dealing with and understand protocols to protect your investment. Big picture, purchasing a used domain name is riskier than registering a new premium TLD domain name for your brand. But if you’re set on a particular name, Salminen emphasizes again to work with a reputable registrar for any transfer.

“Often, you’ll be dealing with a stranger, and that stranger isn’t necessarily a well-known company but a private person, probably from some other country.” Salminen said. “Domain name acquisitions can be expensive, from hundreds to thousands of dollars, and you don’t want to – or need to – stress over the possibility that you’ll lose your money in the process. With an escrow company the process works like this: You send the money to the company and the company prompts the seller to send the domain name to you. Once you’re in the possession of the domain, the company releases the money to the seller.”

What About Your WHOIS?

Once you do purchase a domain name, Salminen strongly encourages owners to keep their contact information up-to-date.

“When you purchase a new or used domain name, it’s wise to check that your WHOIS information is up to date. In some cases, you can even lose your domain name [if it’s not up-to-date]. I learned this the hard way when I had my old email address associated with one my domain names,” Salminen shared. “It was a .de domain name for a German version of my streaming news site. DENIC, the central registry of German domain names, had contacted me, but I didn’t receive the message. I lost the domain name, and then someone else registered the domain with the prospect of selling it.”

ICANN, suggests for domain name owners to update their WHOIS information each year or as it changes, and consider putting their name as the WHOIS contact even for proxy or privacy service in case of any dispute.

Using these practices when purchasing a domain name can help prevent against potential threats and keep your brand safe.

Read more about keeping your domain name safe on TechCo

This article was brought to you in partnership with .ME, the premium top-level domain for professionals focused on building their online reputation. Learn more at www.domain.me.

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Written by:
Tishin is a technology journalist and correspondent. She has written for TechCrunch, Demand Studios and Fitness, and has regular network segments on local Phoenix affiliate stations. She holds a Master's degree in Clinical and Sport psychology, and has covered many areas of technology ranging from 3D printing and game development to neurotech and funding for over 15 years.
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