Even with the best antivirus and anti-malware software, we live in a challenging business environment heightened by the threat of cyber attacks, online fraud and brand abuse, protecting your organisation’s reputation, revenue and customers has never been more important. While there are many elements to consider when it comes to online brand protection, the domain is perhaps the most important.
Your domain is the core of your business identity and forms the basis for your wider business strategy. It is vital to building your brand and fostering and maintaining customer trust. As a result, any damage to it in the form of abuse or an attack that undermines your internet security can have a negative impact on your organisation and affect customer trust.
From the beginning when you select and register your domain name or names, right through to managing them and securing them, the best approach is to gain a holistic view of your domains and the management process in order to mitigate risk both to your customers and your intellectual property.
Chrissie Jamieson is the VP of Marketing for MarkMonitor.
The growing cyber threat
This may be easier said than done based on the approach that brands are taking. This was one of the findings from the recent MarkMonitor 2019 Global Business Survey.
The research also showed the state of the industry in which brands are operating, revealing that 62% of brands have been impacted by cybercrime in the last year. In addition, 23% of brands experienced an attack targeted specifically at their domain.
With 48% of brands stating they believed brand infringement had increased over the last 12 months, organisations need to ensure they have the right tools, processes and practices in place to keep them safe. Especially when it comes to domains.
The challenge of domain management
While there is an increased awareness of the severity of the threat and the need for comprehensive brand protection, there are other challenges. The research shows that security, cost and keeping track of domains are the three most cited obstacles to effective domain management.
When you consider the number of domains a company can own, the problem becomes clear. Larger brands, and especially those that operate globally, find the domain management process more complex than simply choosing and registering an initial domain then selecting the best webhosting.
Sub-domains, name variations, domains for campaigns, defensive registrations and regional domains all need to be considered, registered and managed. The result is that organisations deal with large domain portfolios that are cost and time-intensive in terms of management and renewals.
This is reflected in the number of domains brands currently own. The majority (56%) of respondents in the research said they owned fewer than 100 domains, while a further 15% own 100-249; 9% own 250-500; and 8% between 500-1,000.
But not all of these domains are active and adding value to the business. The research revealed that almost one-fifth (18%) of respondents said up to 25% of their portfolio was active, while a further 18% said between 76-100% were active. The bulk of respondents fell in between, with 28% stating that 26-50% of their portfolio was active, and 36% stated 51-75% was active.
There are also other factors that influence domains, including the evolution of the domain space, regulatory changes such as GDPR and political uncertainty around Brexit. The launch of generic top-level domains (gTLDs) has certainly had an impact; 39% of brands have registered a gTLD and of those respondents, 32% experienced brand impersonation and abuse against it.
A siloed approach to management
While more than half (51%) of brands agree that protecting critical domain assets is the most important issue in domain management, the way in which they approach the process does not always reflect this sentiment. This is shown in the fact that domain management and security are largely siloed.
It is most often IT or IT security that is tasked with domain management (this is the case in 46% of brands surveyed), followed by the legal department (16%) and marketing (13%). Only 13% of brands said they took a combined approach to domains.
The renewal process is a key part of management; ensuring each and every domain name is renewed on time and all contact information is kept up to date. This may be easier for small businesses to manage as the number of domains is likely to be low. However, the larger the organisation, the more domains are needed and registered — by different departments and individuals — which is why an integrated approach is needed.
The research shows that more than one-quarter (26%) of respondents rely solely on renewal notices, while a further 25% subscribe to the industry best-practice approach, have a plan in place and collaborate with multiple departments. Twenty-one per cent of brands give the responsibility of management and renewal to one person; 13% approach it on an ad-hoc basis; and 10% work with a third-party provider to help them.
Delegating this crucial task to just one person has a number of drawbacks. Without a holistic approach it is difficult for this individual to see which domains are more important than others, which are being used and which domains can be sold off. It also means that if this person leaves the organisation or moves roles the knowledge around renewals and management could be lost; important notices could get lost in a defunct email box; and the organisation could miss renewal deadlines and face potentially devastating consequences.
The best practice approach is to take an organisation-wide approach to the process, with collaboration between all relevant departments, including IT management, security, marketing, legal and even the board.
Keeping a brand healthy, safe from cyber attacks and optimised – to ensure a return on investment – is critical in meeting the expectations of customers, maintaining brand identity and reputation, and safeguarding the bottom line. Moving forwards for brands, it’s clear that domain strategies need to form part of wider protection initiatives.
These initiatives are shaped by different factors, but at the core is domain management. In addition, these strategies need to be created and carried out by cross-department teams, collaborating throughout the process.
Chrissie Jamieson is the VP of Marketing for MarkMonitor.
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