Internet industry wary of newtop-level domains; fast expansion

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WASHINGTON — A plan to dramatically expand the numbers of possible Web addresses — by adding more than 1,000 new domains such as “.buy,” “.casino” and “.gay” — could cause widespread disruption to Internet operations, say some industry officials.

Efforts to augment existing domains such as “.com” and “.gov” have been underway for several years and are entering a critical new phase as industry officials meet at an international conference that began Sunday in Durban, South Africa. By summer’s end, the new domains could be going live at a pace of 20 or more each week.

The plan has touched off a scramble among investors eager to gain control of the virgin Internet real estate, potentially worth billions of dollars in annual licensing fees. But a vocal group of critics is calling the speed and scale of the expansion reckless.

Particularly troubling is the possibility of widespread “name collisions” that could happen when domains used by internal corporate computer systems — such as “.corp” or “.home” — get assigned to the Web more broadly. “This could affect a million enterprises,” said Danny McPherson, chief security officer for Verisign, which is based in Reston, Va., and manages several of the most popular existing domains. “It could absolutely break things.”

McPherson and other security experts say the nonprofit group that oversees the designation of Web addresses, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), has not done enough study on the impact of the new domain names and does not have procedures in place to respond quickly if systems malfunction.

“ICANN was created in large part to break Verisign’s monopoly over domain names,” said Donuts spokesman Mason Cole in a statement. “Now that the organization is on the verge of achieving that goal, it’s not surprising that Verisign is uncomfortable.”

Verisign officials say they support the program but believe the rollout should proceed more cautiously.

than currently planned.

The stakes are high in an era when a large and growing share of the world’s economic activity happens over the Internet. Even traditional bricks-and-mortar businesses use online systems to communicate, manage inventories and interact with customers. Many also count on the security of networked computer systems to protect lucrative intellectual property and other valuable strategic information.

Moss, the ICANN security chief, acknowledged that some internal corporate systems will malfunction as new domains are created, and he said it would be the responsibility of company officials to fix the problems.

“We want everything to work, and we’re going to try to make everything work, but we can’t control everybody’s networks on the planet,” he said.

Moss said the number of domains likely to cause problems is a “really, really small number.”

But critics have said it is irresponsible for ICANN to approve new domains before it knows the extent of the problems they would create and has plans in place to fix them. The cost of repairing systems — or the loss of security — would be borne by private companies that in most cases have little to gain from the hundreds of new Internet domains.

In addition to expressing such security concerns, corporate leaders have been complaining that the sheer number of new domains will cause a sharp rise in fraud and abuse as criminals buy up Web addresses intended to deceive consumers. Already, many companies are attempting to defend against this by acquiring many different Web addresses that include their corporate names. But that will become far more difficult, they say, with hundreds of new domains, including “.corp,” “.inc” and “.sucks.”

“If everything ran perfectly, this would extraordinarily transform the Internet,” said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers. “There is every reason to believe that, as of now, there could be serious problems.”

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