Businesses are being warned to take urgent action ahead of a major change to Australian websites in coming weeks.
Owners of websites with .com.au, .net.au or similar domain names only have until next month to secure their equivalent address under the new .au domain — prompting warnings from the Small Business Ombudsman about the risk from cybersquatters or scammers taking their names.
The non-government regulator, the .au Domain Administration (auDA), introduced the new system on March 24 allowing anyone with a connection to Australia such as a business, association or individual to register using the new shorter category domain name.
For example, shoes.com.au could be shoes.au.
The auDA decided that Australian businesses with an existing domain name would only have until September 20 to reserve or register their equivalent .au domain name before it became available to the general public.
Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson said in a statement on Friday that he has significant concerns about the plan to allow open slather sale of business internet names under the shortened version.
Mr Billson said that will all the challenges businesses were facing, “the last thing anyone needs is someone ripping off their domain name”.
“I implore all small business owners to take a few minutes to work out if they want the shortened .au domain or will be unhappy for someone else to have it,” he said.
“If you want it, small business owners, I urge you to take a few minutes and few dollars to register it or potentially face someone else grabbing it and using it to digitally ambush your business, to demand big dollars later to surrender it to you or misuse it to masquerade as you or to help them engage in cybercrime.”
He added that we are “not surprised so few people know about this as the public awareness campaign has been less than impactful, but I want to make sure small businesses avoid a horrible surprise when they find someone else is using or misusing the shortened version of their key digital asset being their domain name”.
Mr Billson has written to the auDA expressing his concerns and urging it to extend the September 20 deadline, but the regulator rejected his request. “So all I can do is try and make sure small and family business are not caught short when it comes to the shortened .au domain name,” he said.
“The consequences of not registering your existing business name by this deadline could be catastrophic for a business if a rival or someone else took their online name. Domain names are very much the identity of a business and critical to their success. Small businesses cannot afford to have their identity sold to someone else.”
He likened it to “cutting a second set of keys to your front door and selling them to a rival, a stranger who tries to sell them back to you at a higher price or a criminal who uses them to rip off your customers”.
“With five weeks to go until this artificially imposed deadline, I have become very concerned that the roll out of this change has not been properly explained and promoted,” he said.
“My engagement with small businesses and a wide range of organisations representing small and family businesses is that overwhelmingly they are either not aware of this change or they do not understand the potential consequences.”
The Australian Cyber Security Centre earlier this week issued an alert warning that the new domain name category could allow cybercriminals to facilitate fraudulent activity like business email compromise which can lead to invoice fraud.
“Opportunistic cybercriminals could register your .au domain name in an attempt to impersonate your business,” the ACSC warned.
Mr Billson has again called on auDA to extend the exclusive period by 12 months.
“The deadline needs to be significantly extended,” he said.
“We are not unhappy about the introduction of the .au domain but these crucial internet addresses should be available to the right people first and they should properly be notified about the change and given reasonable time to act.”
In a statement, an auDA spokeswoman said the introduction of the .au domain and the priority process “has been informed by significant consultation with the community”.
“auDA is pleased by the strong community response to .au direct, which is already unlocking untapped potential in Australia’s digital economy with more than 200,000 registrations, providing greater choice of shorter, simpler Australian domain names,” she said.