As if businesses didn’t already face enough cyber threats lurking out there in the digital world, another one has recently emerged – and, wow, could it do major damage!

Late last year, The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) began selling the new .xxx top-level domain to owners of pornographic web sites.  The sex domain joins other top-level domains such as .com, .org, .gov, and .biz.

“Why should I care about this at all?” you may be thinking.  “I run a respectable, legitimate business that has nothing whatsoever to do with porn.”  Here’s why:  It’s a big deal because anyone could take your company name and stick the .xxx domain on it.  You could suffer a public relations crisis, losing customers and revenue.

Why would anyone use my web site name with a .xxx domain?

The bad guys have numerous motives for doing this.  Let’s say, for example, that you own Bob’s Pizza and your web site address is www.bobspizza.com.  A cyber criminal knows that you depend on your site both to process online orders and to foster general awareness of your brand.  So, he purchases www.bobspizza.xxx and then notifies you that you can either buy the web site name from him at an exorbitant price, or he will post porn on the site in an attempt to ruin your reputation.

But extortion isn’t the only reason your good name could be hijacked.  Disgruntled customers or former employees might also engage in this practice to exact revenge on a business for its perceived wrongdoing.

There is also the possibility that a pornographer might actually want your business name as part of his own web site address, if your company is well liked or has wide name recognition.  Such a scenario would, at least in theory, drive traffic to the sex site.

Cyber threat widely acknowledged

This might sound far-fetched, but some major entities are concerned enough to be spending thousands of dollars to prevent these very scenarios from coming to pass.  According to the Lincoln (NE) Journal Star, all four campuses of the University of Nebraska have bought numerous .xxx addresses:  Among them are nebraska.xxx, huskers.xxx, and gobigred.xxx.

In fact, the fear is so real that as of December 2011, over 80,000 .xxx domain addresses had been sold to non-pornographers as they moved to protect their good name.

Take precautions against cyber crime

Of course, if you’re a victim of this type of cyber attack, you could file a civil lawsuit and possibly seek criminal charges as well.  But by the time you got relief, if you got relief at all, substantial damage would have already been done.  Furthermore, according to a blog by law firm Myers Lin, it might prove difficult to take down a porn site if the owner claims he was operating the site as a parody of your business.

So, what should you do?  Well, it is at least worth considering whether you should buy a .xxx name that matches your business’s current .com address.  But remember that there might be numerous web addresses that could represent your company, and buying domain names for all of them quickly runs up the price.

You should also seriously consider purchasing technology insurance to protect your company from a variety of cyber risks, including extortion and damage to brand.  (Yes, insurance for this does exist!)  If you fall victim to cyber crime, the costs can be huge.  But insurance against Internet dangers doesn’t have to be.

About INSUREtrust

We invented the nation’s first Internet insurance policy over 15 years ago, and are experts in cyber risks.  Over the past ten years, INSUREtrust has written more than $100 million in premiums and paid more than $30 million in claims.  We can tailor make a technology insurance policy to fit your specific needs for any risks, and we can do it at a competitive price because insurers are looking for business.