The Current State of Digital Brand Abuse – Protecting Your Online Presence

Today the internet has become an integral part of our lives, and as such, it plays a vital role in the world of business and branding. However, with the growth of the online world, we have also witnessed the rise of digital brand abuse, which poses a significant threat to brand owners. In this blog post, we will explore the extent and impact of domain-related crimes on brand owners and discuss the tools and strategies that brands and companies can use to protect themselves proactively against such abuses.

How the Domain Name Industry Works

Before delving into digital brand abuse, it’s essential to understand how the domain name industry operates. In this industry, various entities play distinct roles:

  1. ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers): Often considered the governing body of the internet, ICANN oversees the rules and regulations that shape the web as we know it.
  2. Registries: These are the operators responsible for managing top-level domains (TLDs). Registries also establish the rules for TLDs under their control.
  3. Registrars: These are service providers like Dotkeeper, who partner with registries to offer end-users the ability to register domain names under different TLDs.

The domain name industry operates on a “first come, first served” basis. This means that it is crucial for businesses to secure ownership of their domains in the regions where they operate and in regions where they hold registered trademarks. Unfortunately, this market often experiences encroachments where third parties purchase domain names and attempt to sell them back to the rightful owners at significantly higher prices. In some cases, domains are registered and used for malicious purposes, such as impersonation (e.g., email or copycat websites) and brand seeding (redirecting to competing businesses). Fortunately, mechanisms exist for resolving domain disputes and taking down malicious domains.

Understanding DNS Abuse

One prominent form of digital brand abuse is DNS (Domain Name System) abuse.

You can divide DNS Abuse into two Categorize:

  1. Maliciously Registered Domain Names
    Registered with malicious intent to carry out harmful or illegal activity.

  2. Compromised Domain Names
    Registered for legitimate purposes, compromised by bad actors with malicious intent to carry out harmful or illegal activity.

A particularly concerning example of DNS Abuse is phishing, where criminals set up fraudulent websites or send deceptive emails to trick users into revealing sensitive information. These criminals often register domains with mail exchanger records, making it easier for them to launch email-based phishing attacks.

Different types of phishing attacks have surged:

  • Phishing attacks have increased by approximately 65%.
  • The number of unique domain names reported for phishing has risen by approximately 32%.
  • Maliciously registered domain names have increased by approximately 24%.

These statistics underscore the pressing need for brand owners to address and mitigate digital brand abuse.


Domain Disputes

When it comes to resolving domain disputes, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) plays a crucial role. The number of WIPO domain dispute cases and domains involved has been steadily increasing, with a significant spike in 2023. This surge can be attributed to trademark owners bolstering their online presence, especially in the wake of organizations relying more on their digital presence.

Protecting Your Organization

So, what can your organization do to protect itself against digital brand abuse? Here are some key strategies:

  1. Manage Essential Domains: Identify and secure domains that are essential for your business, including those used for communication with clients and those associated with products or applications.
  2. Defensive Registrations: Register domains defensively and consider potential emerging markets where your business may expand in the next few years.
  3. Monitoring both trademarks and domain names: Implement monitoring solutions to detect potential infringements related to your brand.

Analysis of Legal Prerequisites

In the event of domain disputes, it’s crucial to consider legal prerequisites, such as corresponding trademark registrations, legitimate interests, and bad faith on the part of the domain holder. An enforcement process is essential to protect your brand’s online presence.

The Enforcement Process

The enforcement process follows a structured approach:

  1. Initial Review: Analyze the activity concerning your domains and trademarks. Identify the actor behind the domain, the content, and any known parties involved.
  2. Contact Hosting Provider / Registrar: In urgent cases where the domain holder is in breach of the registration agreement and is abusing the domain name system, contact the hosting provider or registrar.
  3. Domain Dispute Analysis: Analyze the legal prerequisites for conducting a domain dispute, collecting all relevant evidence, and ensuring that they are saved for future reference.
  4. Cease and Desist Letter: If legal prerequisites are met, send a cease-and-desist letter to the domain holder, urging them to transfer the domain voluntarily. If unsuccessful, initiate an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process.
  5. ADR or Litigation: Depending on the situation, ADR can result in the domain’s transfer. In cases where ADR is not effective, litigation in court may be necessary to combat severe trademark infringements.

Key Takeaways

In conclusion, digital brand abuse, particularly through phishing attacks and other cybercrimes, continues to rise. To protect your organization’s online presence, it is vital to have a well-established domain portfolio and proactively monitor for potential domain infringements that contain your brand’s trademarks. It’s also essential to consider domain name registrations in connection with new trademark applications and take swift action against domains that misuse your trademarks.

By taking these steps and understanding the complexities of the domain name industry, businesses can safeguard their brands in the digital landscape and reduce the risks associated with digital brand abuse.