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Number of .uk domain suspensions at record low

Statistics from Nominet show how effective law enforcement action against cyber crime in the UK is paying off

The past 12 months have seen a dramatic fall in the number of .uk domain names suspended for criminal activity – such as phishing, fraud or other forms of cyber crime – to the lowest number since records began, just 3,434, compared to 22,148 in 2020.

The latest statistics, revealed on 8 December by Nominet, the UK’s official domain name registrar, almost entirely reflect the success of Operation Ashiko, a joint initiative targeting intellectual property crime by the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (Pipcu) and Nominet.

According to Nominet, Pipcu, which is responsible for processing and coordinating all requests relating to IP infringement, reported a mere 2,487 domains for suspension in 2021, down from 21,632 last year.

“The trend is largely due to a very large reduction in suspensions related to intellectual property crime. This is testament to the success of a joint initiative – Operation Ashiko in collaboration with PIPCU and Nominet – working to reduce the amount of counterfeit sites following a full mapped assessment on the DNS of websites selling and distributing counterfeit goods,” said Nominet general counsel and head of stakeholder relations, Nick Wenban-Smith.

“For obvious reasons, we won’t go into detail of the project, but it has delivered a positive outcome as online criminals are no longer seeing .uk as a viable option.”

Nominet suspends domains if notified by the police or other law enforcement agencies that said domain is being used for criminal activity. Aside from Operation Ashiko, it received a total of 539 domain suspension requests from law enforcement agencies, 841 from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), and 75 from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

Additionally, Nominet reported no domain suspensions in 2021 as a result of its proscribed terms policy, even though 1,012 newly-registered domains were identified as potential breaches, indicating a high level of false positives. Significantly, there were no domain suspension requests from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) relating to child sexual abuse images in the .uk domain space this year.

“We have seen an increase in some reporting agencies this year, particularly around online fraud and financial crime. However, the overall number of .uk domains associated with criminality is still lower than previous years, which is a positive outcome for all users,” said Wenban-Smith.

Detective sergeant Sophina Deed, from the City of London Police’s Cyber Prevention and Disruption Team at the NFIB, added: “Our focus is to disrupt criminals using technology as a facilitator for fraud, we focus on preventing and disrupting their activity enabling us to prevent people and businesses being victims of this type of crime, which can have devastating consequences.

“On behalf of our team, I’d like to thank Nominet for our continued positive partnership in this area enabling us all to continue our united fight against this type of criminality in the .uk arena,” she said.

As is usual, 2021 also saw a small number of domain suspension requests that did not result in a suspension, 18 in total, down from 47 last year. This can happen for several reasons – the domain may have been suspended in a parallel process, it may have been transferred on a court order, or the registrant may have taken actions to become compliant following notification.

Nominet also reversed a small number of previous suspensions, 25, up from 15, which can happen if the offending behaviour has ceased and the requesting agency has confirmed the suspension can now be lifted.

Covid phishing trip

Meanwhile, Nominet’s anti-phishing initiative, Domain Watch, which is empowered to suspend suspicious domains at the point of registration if it identifies the new domain may be at high risk of being used in phishing campaigns, stopped 5,484 new registrations, slightly up from 5,006 in 2020.

A suspension by Domain Watch means that the proposed domain will be unusable pending due diligence to make sure it does not pose a risk. Out of the 5,484 suspensions, 450 successfully passed the due diligence process and were allowed to complete and go live.

Many of these actions will have related to fraudulent activity exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic, and Domain Watch continues to conduct enhanced checks on new domain registations linked to the coronavirus. As of the end of October, it had conducted checks on new 4,330 .uk domains during the course of the pandemic, or which 2,749 made the grade.

“As guardian of the .uk namespace, it’s in our DNA to ensure it is safe and secure for the millions of individuals and business who use it. It’s always encouraging to see that our collaborative approach with LEAs and our Domain Watch initiative is making a significant dent in the number of domains requiring suspension as .uk becomes increasingly unattractive to criminals,” said Eleanor Bradley, Nominet managing director of registry and public benefit.

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