In 1985, around the time that the Internet was just beginning to take shape, there were six top-level domains (TLDs) in existence. These were “.com”, “.net”, “.org”, “.gov”, “.mil”, and “.edu”. Along with some 100 country codes, those TLDs led the evolution of the web for over a decade.But then things changed. As the Internet continued to expand in size, TLDs started to diversify and increase in number. By 1998, websites with addresses ending in “.biz”, “.info”, “.telo”, and “.jobs” began popping up. Fast-forward nearly 20 years later, and today we have over 1,000 TLDs, many of which have only been in existence for the past two years.The proliferation of TLDs is exciting for the future of the web. However, it also raises important questions about the extent to which those organizations charged with monitoring all of these top-level domains have sufficient resources and infrastructure to secure them against malware and other threats.With that concern in mind, security provider Blue Coat Systems Inc. has published Do Not Enter: Blue Coat Research Maps the Web’s Shadiest Neighborhoods (pdf), a report which examines the most suspicious TLDs in existence today.Shadiness on the WebAfter analyzing web requests originating from 15,000 businesses and 75 million users, Blue Coat has put together the following list of the top 10 “shady” TLDs, which also includes the percentage of “shady” websites respective to each domain.
Source: Blue CoatThese findings are instructive, but they can be misleading. As Blue Coat rightly notes, only 100 websites are currently found under the “.london” TLD, and plenty of small churches that may or may not operate under “.church” have been successfully hacked by ISIS and by other malicious actors.Ultimately, the “safe” TLDs distinguish themselves by instituting guidelines that regulate the purchase of individual websites.“On some of the good ones, there is usually a set of qualifications to be able to buy a domain. It’s not just being able to have a valid credit card that can you charge $18 bucks on and you buy one of these domains,” Thompson told CBS News. “The average person off the street can’t go and buy a .mil domain. You have to be associated with the government. The registrar that controls that has a bunch of criteria on who you have to be. As a result of that, it’s an incredibly safe TLD.”Other TLDs, such as “.sucks”, require a $2,000 annual registration fee, a cost which likely prices many scammers out of the market.ConclusionBusinesses that are looking to protect themselves against “shady” TLDs should consider blocking traffic from any domains listed in Blue Coat’s analysis. Meanwhile, users should exercise caution should they come into contact with one of the suspicious TLDs in an email or web search results page. Users should also make sure that unknown links do not lead to a website operating under a “shady” top-level domain either by hovering their cursor over the URL in question or by pressing and holding down on the URL on their mobile device.Title image courtesy of ShutterStock