Mali to follow in Tokelau's footsteps


The country-code top-level domain (ccTLD) ‘.tk’ has experienced unprecedented growth in the volume of domain name registrations under management, making it the third largest ccTLD registry in the world. ‘.tk’ is the ccTLD for the small collection of South Pacific atolls that make up the territory of Tokelau, with a population of less than 1,500 people.

The reason behind this extraordinary growth in domain name registrations was due to the ‘.tk’ registry offering domain name registrations for free. Unfortunately, some of this growth was driven by unscrupulous third parties who secured free ‘.tk’ domain name registrations and used them to run fraudulent phishing scams. Phishing scams are a way for fraudsters to attempt to acquire information by masquerading as trustworthy entities. Emails purporting to be from banks, auction sites, online payment processors or government organisations are commonly used to hoodwink unsuspecting recipients into providing information, such as usernames, passwords and credit card details. Phishing emails often also direct users to fake websites that seem almost identical to the corresponding legitimate websites and then ask them to enter similar valuable information.

The growth of ‘.tk’ has continued throughout 2012 and the first quarter of 2013 and it is now the third largest ccTLD registry, with over 16 million registered domain names. The only condition of registering a free ‘.tk’ domain name is that the corresponding website must be viewed at least 25 times over a period of 90 days and, if this is not fulfilled, the domain name may be cancelled. It is possible to pay for domain name registrations under ‘.tk’ and such payment removes this requirement. However, according to the ‘.tk’ registry, free domain names account for 97% of all ‘.tk’ domain name registrations.

Apparently inspired by the ‘.tk’ example, the Republic of Mali has also decided to launch free domain name registrations under the Mali ccTLD extension of ‘.ml’. The Agence des Technologies de l'Information et de la Communication has created a new entity, Dot ML, to operate the domain name registry. Dot ML have partnered with Freedom Registry BV, which also provides the technical back-end registry services to Dot TK, the company which runs the ‘.tk’ domain name registry.

Under the proposed re-launch of ‘.ml’, domain name registrations will be available to anyone who wishes to register from July 15 2013. Prior to this there will be a sunrise period during which brand owners will be allowed to secure their trademarks under ‘.ml’. This will be followed by a landrush period during which any entity may apply for any available domain name on a first-come, first-served basis. According to Dot ML, there will be a fee for domain name registrations made during the sunrise and landrush periods, but these fees have not yet been published or confirmed.

The launch schedule was confirmed by the Dot ML registry during the ICANN meeting in Beijing, China and is as follows:

  • Sunrise period: May 1 until May 31 2013.
  • Landrush period: June 1 2013 until July 14 2013.
  • General availability: July 15 2013 onwards.

There are serious concerns that the creation of another domain name space that is based upon free domain name registrations is likely to create additional problems, not only in terms of infringing domain name registrations, but also that it will provide another possibility for fraudsters to register domain names for phishing scams and online fraud.

However, all may not be lost. In response to the number of domain names that were being used for online fraud under ‘.tk’, the registry operator, Dot TK, introduced a policy that allowed brand owners, law enforcement agencies and anti-phishing groups to rapidly take down offending domain names. As a result of this, according to the Anti-Phishing Working Group, the number of ‘.tk’ domain names being used for phishing decreased substantially during 2012 and, by the end of that year, they accounted for only 19% of all malicious domain name registrations, compared to 50% at the beginning of 2012.  

Therefore, it is to be hoped that Dot ML follows this example and ensures that appropriate safeguards are put in place for domain name registrations under ‘.ml’.

David Taylor and Daniel Madden, Hogan Lovells LLP, Paris

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