Safeguarding the Domain Name System During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Domain Name System (DNS) is a hierarchical and decentralized naming system for computers, services, or other resources connected to the Internet or a private network. It translates domain names (website addresses) to the numerical IP addresses needed to locate and identify computer services and devices with the underlying network protocols. It can be referred to as the Internet’s “phone book”. The Internet depends critically on the integrity and security of the DNS.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused social and economic lockdown in almost all countries and continents. It is imperative that people remain connected via the internet during this time as many businesses have moved to rendering online services. Millions of people carry out even the simplest transactions online. The internet is also a major source of up-to-date information regarding the pandemic, the world’s response, economies and global markets. Education has moved online, with institutions of learning at all levels connecting with their student bodies via a wide range of applications. Staying at home for this prolonged period has also meant that people spend much more time seeking entertainment. The internet provides many options for sports, news, movies, documentaries etc.

Unfortunately, there are individuals who are taking advantage of the situation to perpetuate internet fraud and also spread fake news. There are adverts for fake COVID-19 vaccines, test kits and cures on the internet. Other criminals are using domain names to launch cyber-attacks on so many levels. 

The security and integrity of the DNS have always been of utmost importance to the Internet community. It is even more important at this time when people’s reliance on the internet has increased. NiRA notes the efforts of stakeholders, coordinated by the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN’s Security, Stability, and Resiliency Team (SSR) for example are doing a commendable job on domain names registered around the COVID-19 pandemic for abusive/misused purposes. ICANN has also set up the COVID-19 Cyber Threat Coalition (CTC). The CTC is a global volunteer organization composed of the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Registries, Registrars, Security Experts, Law Enforcement, Internet Engineers and others. The CTC’s mission is to operate the largest professional-quality threat lab in the history of cybersecurity out of donated cloud infrastructure and with rapidly assembled teams of diverse, cross-geography, cross-industry threat researchers.

Registries and Registrars can play their part in curbing internet fraud, particularly related to COVID-19 at this time by ensuring all registered domains that purport to sell/coordinate COVID-19 related supplies have proof of legitimacy and authorization to sell/coordinate from the appropriate regulatory bodies. Individuals are also encouraged to report suspicious websites selling alleged COVID-19 vaccines and cures to the appropriate authorities. It is very important that all of us support all efforts in ensuring that the world can safely focus on combating the spread of this pandemic without the intrusion of online criminals.
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