NCC Group's new '.trust' domain promises Internet security overhaul

Designed to make phishing and other abuses harder

With a flood of new general top-level domains (gTLDs) reaching Internet users in 2014, security UK firm NCC Group and a clutch of large Internet brands have announced a new secure domain they hope will turn out to be the most significant of them all.

Called '.Trust', at first it's not clear that this is anything cleverer than a bit of security engineering for businesses that want to stick .trust on the end of their e-commerce websites and emails. Does the world need yet another gTLD, even a secure one, when it is already overwhelmed with new ones?

The ambition appears to be to add something to the idea of what a domain is rather than simply create a new one.

For a start, getting a .trust domain will be expensive, time-consuming by Internet standards and will require layers of security checks. NCC Group says that even the individual within a verified firm requesting one will be checked out to make sure they are who they say they are.

Organisations will also have to show that their systems from websites to email servers comply with strict security standards. There will be regular security scanning while ISPs will as a minimum need to embrace anti-phishing standards such as DMARC to have any chance of being admitted to .trust.

Consumers will come into contact with .trust when they receive emails from banks or large enterprises or when they checkout while shopping online, presumably feeling safer in the knowledge that spoofing the domain would be far more difficult than with any other domain.

"The internet is a lawless world - ungovernable, unmanageable and insecure. Consumer confidence has gone, and businesses are at a loss at how to combat the risks," said NCC Group CEO, Rob Cotton, in the launch release.

"The new rollout of gTLDs is further changing the shape of the internet. Cybersquatting and phishing were big issues with just 22 gTLDs, but with over 1,400 set to be introduced these problems are set to get exponentially worse," he said.

"The benefits to businesses of having a .trust gTLD are immediately obvious. It will act as a key differentiator, bringing back consumer confidence by protecting customers as they transact and interact online."

It's such a good idea you wonder why the Internet wasn't invented to have such domains in the first place but of course the Internet was invented before anyone thought cybercrime would ever be more than a nuisance. The question is how it will work and what people will understand about its security from that.

NCC Group technical director Paul Vlissidis stresses that .trust is not intended to replace the .com domains that enterprises have already invested in. It was more like a new way of enabling the same thing but with an added layer of DNS, email server and SSL security built in from the ground up.

"We thought it was a good opportunity to start afresh," said Vlissidis of ICANN's gTLD roll-out.

The advantage of .trust was not only that it would help gain consumer confidence but could also be used to secure supply chains, cutting the incidence of phishing that continues to plague the Internet.

He mentions DMARC as one industry standard that will be an essential component of .trust when it comes to securing email from spoofing and arguably it is the anti-phishing rather than web security that could be its most interesting contribution. This does require that the downstream email providers are onboard but all the large ones already use it.

The one missing part of the .trust story is why with so many large enterprises involved - about 50 according to Vlissidis - only NCC Group is actually making any noise about it. This could be down to politics or simply because NCC Group is the firm that has made the considerable investment needed to buy the .trust gTLD itself.

Techworld understands that a range of large firms were involved with .trust's development from banks and ISPs to well-known e-commerce sites.

The idea of a secure domain space isn't new. A couple of years back, UK Internet registry Nominet pushed the idea of .uk as a securable space for British business. That imposed checks on firms and individuals registering local domains to stop the widespread abuse that had resulted from the free-for-all. The idea ended up being delayed.

It has never been clear how much more secure .uk is compared to the alternatives but Nominet recently removed domain anonymity from sites registered using the suffix.

Interested organisations should contact NCC Group from now onwards but expect a one-month assessment period before they are admitted to the .trust circle of trust. The .trust domain should, ICANN willing, go live on the Internet in October.

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