We will never reach a utopia where every individual with an internet connection questions every link they click on and checks every website they view for authenticity. Here, fTLD, the registry for .bank and .insurance top-level domains (TLDs), provides their view of how a TLD can make it simple for users to trust their interactions with websites.

Badness and domains

A near entirety of internet cybersecurity threats stem from the simple problem of authentication (i.e., knowing definitively who or what you’re interacting with). Malware, ransomware, business-email-compromise, breaches, identity theft, and financial fraud most commonly originate from interactions with phishing emails or spoofed websites from bad actors pretending to be someone they’re not.

The cyber-savviness gamble

The overwhelming majority of the internet, banks included, operates within open, unrestricted TLDs (e.g., .co, .com, .net), where for just $10-$15, anyone can get any domain for any purpose. We’re forced to rely on the cyber-savviness, investigative ability, and persistence of end-users to keep all of us safe. Despite decades of education around cybersecurity hygiene (i.e., best practices for staying safe online), the simultaneous rampant growth of these cyber-attacks indicates a new approach to cybersecurity is long overdue.

We need to address the balance

While there is a near-constant flow of innovation attempting to solve this challenge for businesses that need to authenticate their customers, there hasn’t been the same progress in the other direction, i.e., making it easy for customers, employees, and vendors to definitively authenticate their interactions with organizations.

We need a new way to prevent the singular ‘bad clicks’ exposing organizations and individuals to cyberattacks and fraud. The process of identifying these attacks within open, unrestricted TLDs is a moving target as bad actors continually increase the sophistication and frequency of their attacks, making it too complex to keep everyone continuously prepared and vigilant. In such an environment, it’s not surprising that users are unable to consistently do all that is necessary to verify who they’re engaged with online.

Let’s KISS (Keep it Simple & Safe)

It’s time for a new process, one simple enough to become a permanent part of everyone’s cybersecurity hygiene. Interestingly a big part of the answer was implemented when the first six TLDs were established in .com, .net, .org, .edu, .gov and .mil. The .edu, .gov, and .mil domains have restrictions on who can get and use domains, making it crystal clear to visitors of these domains that they are interacting with schools, government bodies, or the U.S. Department of Defense.

In 2015, a similar approach was taken when the banking industry, via fTLD Registry Services, created the .bank TLD to protect banks. This domain is restricted to verified banks and their associations, which ensures that seeing “.bank” at the end of an email address or website URL means you are interacting with a bank (or bank association).

And there’s more….

The banking industry, responsible for the governance of .bank, decided to take their cybersecurity a step further and developed Security Requirements that banks must comply with to use their .bank domains. These continuously monitored Security Requirements add multiple layers of cybersecurity, but perhaps most importantly, through the email authentication requirement, they ensure that emails sent from .bank domains are associated with the relevant bank and are not a phishing attack from a bad actor.

fTLD’s verification and authentication process for .bank, which restricts the domain to banks (and their associations), combined with its Security Requirements, enables website visitors and email recipients to easily and immediately authenticate their interactions with their bank(s). Notably, the simplicity of “looking for the ‘.bank’” to prevent those singular ‘bad clicks’ is easy enough to become a permanent part of everyone’s cybersecurity hygiene.

What makes .bank the Fort Knox of TLDs?

Registering a .bank domain
All organizations must first complete fTLD’s verification process to register a .bank domain. This begins with a Verification Application to ensure they are an eligible bank or association and that the domain name(s) requested correspond to their legal name or branding (e.g., trademark, trade name, service mark). Eligible registrants are then sent digital registration tokens to use with Approved Registrars to purchase their domains. Verifications are performed before domains are awarded and annually thereafter. fTLD also verifies any material changes to registration data (i.e., Registrant Organization, Registrant Name, and Registrant Email) to ensure ongoing compliance and security.

fTLD Registrars
fTLD works with 36 ICANN-accredited registrars who must also meet fTLD cybersecurity requirements, including those in the fTLD Operations Pledge, in order to offer their services and support to .bank registrants. fTLD Approved Registrars.

fTLD’s history and handling of abuse reports
In fTLD’s near seven-year history, there have been only nine alleged reports of abuse and every one was ultimately confirmed as a false positive by the relevant reputation blocklist (RBL) provider.

fTLD’s handling of allegations of abuse is based upon four pillars: verification, investigation, remediation, and follow-up, and is initiated upon the receipt of an RBL abuse report or one provided via email directly to fTLD. fTLD having never had a confirmed case of abuse is a testament to our Security Requirements and the fact that we verify our registrants through our thorough verification process.

What would fTLD like to see other registries and registrars doing to reduce abuse?

It’s proven that TLDs with strong registration restrictions and registrant verification processes have few incidences of abuse because bad actors cannot register lookalike domains to perpetrate fraud. We hope and expect to see more highly regulated industries follow fTLD’s model to protect their organizations and customers in the years to come.

fTLD also operates the .INSURANCE domain in an identical manner to provide the same enhanced cybersecurity for insurance providers and distributors.

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