The growing number of domain name extensions, such as dot-airforce, might mean federal agencies run into more email phishing schemes, some brand reputation consultants say.
Copycats recently generated a fake Thrift Savings Plan retirement fund website and sent Army members emails directing them to change their passwords as a part of one such scam. In that case, the credential-stealing trick was orchestrated by fellow service members who were testing troops’ cybersecurity instincts. But most fake sites aren't so friendly.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is in the process of approving hundreds of new "generic top level domain," or gTLDs, which could provide further avenues for swindlers to create rogue or cloned websites as homes for their phishing activities.
Phishing involves posing as a trusted acquaintance and sending emails to targets that trick them into visiting malicious websites.
"If a fraudster were able to bypass the trademark clearing process and purchase domain addresses such as TSP.finance, TSP.bank, TSP.loan, TSP.savings, TSP.insurance, such names provide the perception of legitimacy to clients," said Haydn Simpson, a product director at online brand protection company NetNames. "There are also a number of domain names that could give false authenticity, such as .army, .navy and .airforce, which have yet to define what criteria will be used for registration purposes."
At the same time, agencies, including TSP, could use the opportunity to its advantage -- by reserving a safer domain name.
The new dot-secure suffix, for instance, when launched, will only be available to organizations "that can prove their own infrastructure is water tight and impervious from external threats -- TSP.secure would be seen by the external world as a trusted source and could not be faked or spoofed as we see existing domain names today," Simpson said.
The ultimate protection would be for TSP and other agencies to each request separate gTLDs, if ICANN opens up another round of applications for domain names, he said. "This would mean having a .TSP domain extension, running this service through their own infrastructure, and therefore being able to provide increased end-to-end security to customers," Simpson said.
Consultants also suggest agencies entrusted with citizen information invest in new technology to prevent being associated with undesirable or fraudulent Internet content.
"An approach that combines sound internal policies with robust monitoring and other external enforcement capabilities will go a long way toward giving government the ability to effectively manage this often complex area of internet-based risk," Simpson said.
Brand protection software is worth considering, but such programs are less a new product category than a repackaging that highlights the obvious value proposition of protecting one’s brand and intellectual property from a breach, NSS Labs Chief Technology Officer John Pirc said.
“While brand protection software is being used in the private sector and has been helpful in reducing risk, all it takes is one user to click on a link or visit a malicious website and depending on the severity of the malware downloaded, it could still impact an entire company," he said. "In terms of effectiveness, we never hear about all the incidents that have been blocked, but only those that have catapulted an organization onto the front page of the national news for becoming breached.”
As for the dot-airforce domain, it has been delegated to United TLD Holdco Ltd., based in Ireland.