by Larisa Thomason,
Senior Web Analyst,
We've all seen this famous quote: "It's better to give than to receive." But how many webmasters are willing to give their domain names to anyone who asks? More than you think, unfortunately. Recent changes to domain name transfer policy means you could lose control of your domain name just by neglecting to read your email for a few days.
ICANN's New Policy
ICANN (Internet Corporation on Assigned Names and Numbers) is the agency that sets the policies that govern the sale, distribution, and protection of domain names. When you purchase a name, it's through an ICANN-approved registrar. If you have a trademark dispute pertaining to a domain name, it's handled through ICANN's dispute resolution process. ICANN also approves new top-level domain (TLD) extensions and sets domain name registration and transfer policies that registrars must follow.
It's this last responsibility that should concern you the most right now.
In an effort to streamline the domain transfer process, ICANN is imposing new regulations as of November 12, 2004. Section 3 details when and how registrars must handle transfer requests:
"Failure by the Registrar of Record to respond within five (5) calendar days to a notification from the Registry regarding a transfer request will result in a default "approval" of the transfer.
In the event that a Transfer Contact listed in the Whois has not confirmed their request to transfer with the Registrar of Record and the Registrar of Record has not explicitly denied the transfer request, the default action will be that the Registrar of Record must allow the transfer to proceed. "
In non-bureaucratic language, this means that anyone can transfer your domain name to a new registrar and change the contact and nameserver information if you fail to respond to the transfer notification within 5 calendar days (not working days!).
This completely changes the previous system, whereby the transfer was denied if the owner failed to respond.
A Response To Unscrupulous Registrars
If you've never had a problem transferring a domain name, consider yourself lucky! Many webmasters tell horror stories of registrars who refused to transfer names or hosting companies who registered themselves as the administrative contact and charged outrageous fees to the hapless webmaster.
These problems led to the change. ICANN hopes to make the transfer process easier and keep bad registrars and hosts from holding names hostage.
The ability to transfer at will isn't unlimited; registrars are allowed to deny a transfer in certain circumstances:
- Suspected fraud
- The name is in dispute
- Reasonable cause to suspect the identity of the owner
- Domain is within the first 60 or last 60 day period of registration
- Payment for previous registration period hasn't been received
- Domain is in "locked" status
Unfortunately, the change could make things worse. Reputable registrars will continue business as usual and process transfers with a minimum of fuss and bother. But the bad ones can say that they "suspect fraud" or "can't verify identity" or use any number of tactics to keep the name where it is.
The New Policy: Silence = Consent
Even more worrisome, it the change may make it easier for an unauthorized party to get control of your domain name. There have been numerous complaints against companies who send out fake renewal notices to customers. Unwary webmasters who respond to these fake notices soon discover that the "renewal notices" are actually transfer requests that move the name to a new registrar.
In December 2003, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stopped the Domain Registry of America, a domain reseller, from using such deceptive practices.
For schemes like this to work though, the domain owner has to specifically respond to the written notice or email and take some action. But under new policy, the owner's silence is taken for consent. All the "bad" registrar has to do is request a transfer and hope you aren't reading your email on a timely basis.
Take steps now to protect your domain!
Lock Up Your Names
In previous Webmaster Tips articles, we've discussed several strategies to keep your domain name safe:
- Always keep your email contact address current.
- Make sure that you (not your hosting company) are listed as the Administrative Contact.
Now, we add one more safety tip: lock your domain name.
It's easy to check the status of your domain. Just go to the InterNIC Whois listing, enter your domain name and check the STATUS. What you want to see is this:
Registrar-lock means that your domain name is locked and can't be transferred until you manually "unlock" it. A lock keeps any transfer from taking place, so be sure to unlock the domain before you try to transfer it.
Some registrars automatically lock domain names, while others offer it as an option. Check with your registrar to be sure your domain name is safely locked away. There should not be a charge for this service.
More Domain Name Resources
Need more information about domain names? Check out these previous Webmaster Tips articles:
Once you have your domain name safely locked away, NetMechanic's coding and promotion tools can help you get the most from your Web site.
- HTML Toolbox scans your page for coding errors, broken links, slow-loading pages, and other problems that affect visitors' browsing experiences.
- Search Engine Power Pack gives you search engine-specific tips to optimize your page, streamlines the submission process, and provides resources to help you track your rank.
- Browser Photo shows you actual screen shots of your page in 16 different browser, screen resolution, and operating system combinations. You'll quickly identify browser-specific problems and fix them before they turn away visitors.