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News

Selling old domain names can lead to high risk levels

Sophos : 04 September, 2008  (Technical Article)
The discovery that the old National Hi-Tech Crime Unit that has been absorbed by SOCA has sold its domain name leads to concern that control of such domains could fall into criminal hands
IT security and control firm Sophos is calling on UK authorities to take more control of both their current and old websites following the discovery that the Government no longer owns the domain name for the now defunct National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU).

The NHTCU came to an abrupt end in April 2006 when its work was transferred to the Serious Organised Crime Unit (SOCA). Yet, websites around the world still link to and point readers to the NHTCU site - as recently as this weekend, the BBC linked to the website from a story about NASA hacker, Gary McKinnon. However, earlier in the week, Sophos experts discovered that the site is no longer owned by the UK Government, but by an enterprising German internet marketer who bought the domain on August 2nd 2008.

'While there is no sign of malicious content or adware on the site at the moment, there's no guarantee this situation is going to remain the same forever,' said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. 'If you can steal the identity of the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit from right under the Government's nose then what message does that give the world about the state of the nation's computer security? Letting the domain name go like this demonstrates a sloppiness on the part of the authorities.'


Experts at Sophos note that while the current owner, Uwe Matt, has done nothing illegal in buying the site, the authorities should never have allowed this to happen. According to the company, it's likely that Matt bought the site in order to get higher rankings on search websites like Google, but that there is nothing to stop him selling the website domain on to someone else who may use the site to host malicious code or spam-related content. With reputable organisations still linking to the site, the danger is that innocent computer users could accidentally find themselves the victim of a cyber attack.

'In the worst possible scenario, fraudsters could in future use the site to pretend to be the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit and try and harvest confidential information from computer crime victims,' continued Cluley. 'This situation may never arise, but the message is clear - all organisations must take proper care of their website domains, especially if they are widely linked to from other sites.'
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