A dramatic expansion in the number of possible web addresses – by adding more than 1000 new generic top-level 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.

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, given its possible impact on the internet’s global infrastructure, which relies on interactions among computer networks owned by companies, universities and individual users.

 

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 cause systems to fail, blocking access to email or other internal programs, and also could open sensitive information to theft, some experts say.

‘‘This could affect a million enterprises,’’ said Danny McPherson, chief security officer for Verisign, which 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.

Among those posing risk could be domains such as ’’.med’’ or ’’.center’’ that might be critical to the functioning of medical systems or emergency-response networks.

Similar concerns have been expressed by the Association of National Advertisers, which represents hundreds of major companies, and the internet commerce site PayPal, which issued a letter in March saying, ‘‘The potential for malicious abuse is extraordinary, [and] the incidental damage will be large even in the absence of malicious intent.’’

 

Defenders of the plan have called such fears overblown, arguing that the potential problems have been long understood and will be resolved before new domains are approved. Because the new domains will be released gradually, over the course of months, there will be time to manage problems as they arise, said Jeffrey Moss, chief security officer for ICANN.

‘‘It’s not like it’s a runaway train without recourse,’’ Moss said. ‘‘We’re not going to do anything that harms the security or stability of the internet.

 

’’US officials who oversee web security issues through the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration expressed confidence in the management of the domain program, issuing a statement saying ‘‘We would expect these issues to be discussed and resolved within the ICANN multistakeholder process.’’

 

Companies that have applied for and are granted control of the new domains will be allowed to sell licensing rights for the resulting new web addresses, typically for annual fees, with a portion going to fund ICANN, which is based in Southern California. Applications cost $US185,000 plus annual maintenance fees. New domain owners need to maintain their registry infrastructure around hte clock and many have partnered with registry services to guarantee the stability of the new addresses.

 

Donuts Inc., an investment group that made the largest number of applications, with 307, said Verisign’s criticism of the process for launching the new domains was a result of self-interest. The company controls the popular ’’.com’’ and ’’.net’’ domains – giving it a degree of market power that could be diluted if new ones gain widespread acceptance.

 

‘‘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 organisation is on the verge of achieving that goal, it’s not surprising that Verisign is uncomfortable.

 

’’Verisign officials say they support the program for adding new domains 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 domains likely to cause problems are 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.”

Meanwhile, Melbourne-based technology company ARI Registry Services is set to power the world’s first approved new top-level domain after its client, dotShabaka Registry, signed a registry agreement with the ICANN for the شبكة. top-level domain.

Surpassing almost 1900 other applicants from around the world, شبكة. (.shabaka translates to .web in English) will become the world’s first borderless Arabic new address and will provide Arabic-speaking internet users with an alternative to domains such as .com, .net and .org.

source: The age