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Expired Domains - A Dangerous Legacy?

March 7, 2014

Old domains never really die - they are often resurrected; and not always for benign purposes.

Once a domain name expires; at some point it is available to be registered again by another party.

Researchers investigating what happens to the domains used by US financial institutions when they go bust or abandon a name for other reasons have revealed some disturbing findings.


Of 2,302 domain names known to have been used by now-defunct banks, 33% have wound up under the control by parties "exploiting the residual good reputation attached to the domain by hosting adverts, distributing malware or carrying out search engine optimization (SEO) activities."

A handful were associated with sites made to look like a legitimate bank; but were basically scam/phishing operations.


The situation gives some credibility to the idea that some expired domains may be best kept off the kept off the open market in order to avoid them winding up in the wrong hands.


Furthermore, state the authors, "It is possible to imagine scenarios in which the domains associated with newspapers, e-commerce or the provision of stock market prices might be used for nefarious purposes by a new owner."

It's not just domains associated with old legitimate websites that are a concern. The authors cite an example of an expired name associated with a botnet command and control (C&C) operation that they were able to re-register. A year after it had been suspended, there were still thousands of malware infected computers attempting to make contact.

"A less civic-minded registrant could have easily resurrected the botnet." 

The study, authored by Tyler Moore of Southern Methodist University in Texas and Richard Clayton from the University of Cambridge is titled "The Ghosts of Banking Past: Empirical Analysis of Closed Bank Websites" and is available here (PDF).

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