Australian businesses yet to exclusively register their .au direct domain name may soon find it's too late, as the six-month priority allocation period for existing domain registrants approaches its end.
This new service, called .au direct, was launched in tandem with a priority allocation period which provided priority registration rights to registrants of matching domain names in other .au namespaces, such as .com.au and .org.au.
Essentially, this meant that if you owned "anexampledomain.com.au", for example, you would have priority on being able to register "anexampledomain.au".
However, this priority period expires after 20 Sept 2022, at which time .au direct names will be released from their protective "priority hold" status and made available for registration to the general public.
The result? Businesses that have neglected to register their .au direct name could face a slew of potential brand and security issues.
"It is critical to act before domain names become available to the general public," said Ezra Miller, Domains Product Manager at domain name provider, Webcentral.
"Right now, if you already hold a particular .com.au domain name, you can register a .au equivalent. But if that equivalent .au domain is not registered before the end of the priority allocation period, it may be purchased by others. This may leave your brand and business vulnerable to cyber squatters or brand impersonators who can do real damage."
The new namespace has generated widespread concerns over copycat and cyber criminal activity, with lead voices in cyber security such as the Australian Cyber Security Center (ACSC) noting "opportunistic cyber criminals could register your .au domain name in an attempt to impersonate your business."
Protecting your brand
Fortunately, .au boasts levels of domain abuse, well below the global average – less than 0.04 per cent.
However, Australian domain names, much like other global domain namespaces, are no stranger to cyber scams.
In 2018, a South Australian government domain was leveraged for malicious purposes in a now infamous email scam, and Australian businesses have recurrently faced scams under the guise of unsolicited domain registration offers.
A spokesperson for the .au domain regulatory body, auDA, provided reassurance on the security of .au registrations, stating "auDA takes active steps to reduce any domain name abuse in .au".
"Anyone registering a .au domain name must have an Australian presence that is validated upon registration. Where disputes arise, there is a resolution process in place to protect business’ intellectual property,” they added.
Why register a .au?
The new .au namespace isn't all doom and gloom - in fact, it offers a range of unprecedented benefits for business owners and the Australian domain industry at large, such as increased ease-of-use and a more memorable, concise naming structure.
"It is providing a greater choice of shorter, simpler Australian domain names and helping unlock untapped potential in Australia’s digital economy," auDA said.
Furthermore, research conducted by the team at Webcentral indicates a range of search engine optimisation (SEO) benefits.
After focusing its SEO efforts on a new .au direct registration, Webcentral claims a 30 per cent increase in Google's page 1 rankings, almost 15 per cent more new website users, and a 32 per cent jump in transactions compared to its existing .com.au registration.
"A .au domain is short and memorable. It works well in a mobile setting where the number of characters in a URL address can impact legibility. It is also Australian. That’s important as more and more consumers seek to show loyalty to Australian businesses," Miller said.
While the new namespace doesn't have security shortcomings intrinsic to the .au format itself, expert concerns are currently geared towards the potential of a competitor or bad actor registering a matching .au domain name before an existing business does.
From here, a .au name could be used either for competitive purposes, or for malicious purposes such as business identity theft and scams that direct online traffic to a fraudulent location.
"Our advice would be to not let that happen," Miller stated.
"If, however, it is too late, we recommend speaking with auDA, the administrator of Australia's .au top-level domain."