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Web.com got pwned

Kevin Murphy, November 4, 2019, Domain Registrars

Web.com, which owns top 20 registrars Network Solutions and Register.com, got itself and millions of its customers hacked a few months ago.

The company disclosed last week that malicious hackers broke into its network in late August, making off with customer account information.

The attack was not discovered until October 16.

The compromised data included “name, address, phone numbers, email address and information about the services that we offer to a given account holder”, Web.com said.

“We encrypt credit card numbers and no credit card data was compromised as a result of this incident,” it added.

Customers are being told to change their password next time they log in to their services.

It’s not clear how many registrants were affected. The NetSol accreditation has over seven million domains in the gTLDs alone, while Register.com has almost 1.8 million.

Web.com said it brought on a private security firm to investigate the attack, and informed US law enforcement.

Web.com to be acquired for $2 billion

Web.com is to go private in a deal valued at roughly $2 billion.

The company, which owns pioneering registrars Network Solutions and Register.com as well as SnapNames and half of NameJet, will be bought by an affiliate of Siris Capital Group, a private equity firm.

The cash, $25-a-share deal has been approved by the Web.com board but is still open to higher bids from third parties until August 5.

The offer is a 30% premium over Web.com’s 90-day average price prior to the deal’s announcement.

While Nasdaq-listed Web.com has briefly topped $26 over the last year, you’d have to go back five years to find it consistently over the $25 mark.

New gTLDs steal $5 million from Web.com’s top line

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2014, Domain Registrars

Top registrar Web.com is seeing disappointing revenue from its domain business due to new gTLDs.

The “increased availability” of names has taken a chunk out of the company’s premium domain sales, CEO David Brown told analysts on the company’s third-quarter earnings call yesterday.

While we continue to expect the recently expanded top-level domain environment to increase our ability to sell domains over the medium to long term, the increased availability of names has had a near-term negative impact on domain-related revenue. This is primarily associated with non-core domain-related revenue such as sales of premium domain names and bulk domain sales.

As a result, the company has reduced its full-year 2014 revenue guidance from between $576 million and $579 million to between $566.7 million and $568.7 million

The company blamed about half of the reduction — about $5 million — on softness in its domain name business.

Brown explained that the new gTLD environment has seen domain investors exercise much more caution when it comes to buying premium names and buying names in bulk:

We’ve seen that market get soft…. The reason the softness is occurring is that this marketplace is looking at all of these new gTLDs coming into place, there are more options available for people and they’re kind of stepping back away, at least temporarily, to see how things settle out.

He said the company expects the market to come back after the uncertainty has passed.

Web.com yesterday reported third-quarter net income of $33.9 million, up from $29.3 million a year ago, on revenue that was up to $137.4 million from $125.2 million in 2013.

The company, which owns brands including Register.com and Network Solutions, announced a $100 million share repurchase at the same time, to prop up the inevitable hit its stock was to take.

Its shares are trading down 25% at time of publication.

Registrars screwing up new gTLD launches?

Kevin Murphy, March 18, 2014, Domain Registrars

Some of the largest domain name registrars are failing to support new gTLDs properly, leading to would-be registrants being told unregistered names are unavailable.

The .menu gTLD went into general availability yesterday, gathering some 1,649 registrations in its first half day.

It’s not a great start for the new gTLD by any stretch, but how much of it has to do with the channel?

I tested out searches for available names at some of the biggest registrars and got widely different results, apparently because they don’t all properly support tiered pricing.

Market leader Go Daddy even refuses to sell available names.

The .menu gTLD is being operated by a What Box? subsidiary, the inappropriately named Wedding TLD2.

The company has selected at least three pricing tiers as far as I can tell — $25 is the baseline registry fee, but many unreserved “premium” names are priced by the registry at $50 and $65 a year.

For my test, I used noodleshop.menu, which seems to carry the $65 fee. Whois records show it as unregistered and it’s not showing up in today’s .menu zone file. It’s available.

This pricing seems to be accurately reflected at registrars including Name.com and 101domain.

Name.com, for example, says that the name is available and offers to sell it to me for $81.25.

Name.com

Likewise, 101domain reports its availability and a price of $97.49. There’s even a little medal icon next to the name to illustrate the fact that it’s at a premium price.

101domain

So far so good. However, other registrars fare less well.

Go Daddy and Register.com, which are both accredited .menu registrars, don’t seem to recognize the higher-tier names at all.

Go Daddy reports the name is unavailable.

Go Daddy

And so does Register.com.

Register.com

For every .menu name that carried a premium price at Name.com, Go Daddy was reporting it as unavailable.

With Go Daddy owning almost half of the new gTLD market, you can see why its failure to recognize a significant portion of a new gTLD’s available nice-looking names might impact day-one volumes.

The experience at 1&1, which has pumped millions into marketing new gTLD pre-registrations, was also weird.

At 1&1, I was offered noodleshop.menu at the sale price of $29.99 for the first year and $49.99 thereafter, which for some reason I was told was a $240 saving.

1&1

Both the sale price and the regular price appear to be below the wholesale cost. Either 1&1 is committed to take a $15 loss on each top-tier .menu name forever, or it’s pricing its names incorrectly.

A reader informed me this morning that when he tried to buy a .menu premium at 1&1 today he was presented with a message saying he would be contacted within 24 hours about the name.

He said his credit card was billed for the $29.99, but the name (Whois records seem to confirm) remains unregistered.

I’d test this out myself but frankly I don’t want to risk my money. When I tried to register the same name as the reader on 1&1 today I was told it was still available.

If I were a new gTLD registry I’d be very worried about this state of affairs. Without registrars, there’s no sales, but some registrars appear to be unprepared, at least in the case of .menu.

Here’s why registrars are boycotting .sexy

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2014, Domain Registries

Will .sexy and .tattoo trip on the starting blocks today due to registrars’ fears about competition and Whois privacy?

Uniregistry went into general availability at 1600 UTC today with the two new gTLDs — its first to market — but it did so without the support of some of the biggest registrars.

Go Daddy — alone responsible for almost half of all new domain registrations — Network Solutions, Register.com and 1&1 are among those that are refusing to carry the new TLDs.

The reason, according to multiple sources, is that Uniregistry’s Registry-Registrar Agreement contains two major provisions that would dilute registrars’ “ownership” of their customer base.

First, Uniregistry wants to know the real identities of all of the registrants in its TLDs, even those who register names using Whois privacy services.

That’s not completely unprecedented; ICM Registry asks the same of .xxx registrars in order to authenticate registrants’ identities.

Second, Uniregistry wants to be able to email or otherwise contact those registrants to tell them about registry services it plans to launch in future. The Uniregistry RRA says:

Uniregistry may from time to time contact the Registered Name Holder directly with information about the Registered Name and related or future registry services.

We gather that registrars are worried that Uniregistry — which will shortly launch its own in-house registrar under ICANN’s new liberal rules on vertical integration — may try to poach their customers.

The difference between ICM and Uniregistry is that ICM does not own its own registrar.

The Uniregistry RRA seems to take account of this worry, however, saying:

Except for circumstances related to a termination under Section 6.7 below, Uniregistry shall never use Personal Data of a Registered Name Holder, acquired under this Agreement, (a) to contact the Registered Name Holder with a communication intended or designed to induce the Registered Name Holder to change Registrars or (b) for the purpose of offering or selling non-registry services to the Registered Name Holder.

Some registrars evidently do not trust this promise, or are concerned that Uniregistry may figure out a way around it, and have voted with their storefronts by refusing to carry these first two gTLDs.

Ownership of the customer relationship is a pretty big deal for registrars, especially when domain names are often a low-margin entry product used to up-sell more lucrative services.

What if a future Uniregistry “registry service” competes with something these registrars already offer? You can see why they’re worried.

A lot of registrars have asserted that with the new influx of TLDs, registrars have more negotiating power over registries than they ever did in a world of 18 gTLDs.

Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling is basically testing out this proposition on his own multi-million-dollar investment.

But will the absence of these registrars — Go Daddy in particular — hurt the launch numbers for .sexy and .tattoo?

I think there could be some impact, but it might be tempered by the fact that a large number of early registrations are likely to come from domainers, and domainers know that Go Daddy is not the only place to buy domains.

Schilling tweeted at about 1605 UTC today that .sexy was over 1,800 registrations.

Longer term, who knows? This is uncharted territory. Right now Uniregistry seems to be banking on the 40-odd registrars — some of them quite large — that have signed up, along with its own marketing efforts, to make up any shortfall an absence of Go Daddy may cause.

Tomorrow, I’d be surprised if NameCheap, which is the distant number two registrar in new gTLDs right now (judging by name server counts) is not the leader in .sexy and .tattoo names.

Register.com hit by breach notice over 62,232 domains

Kevin Murphy, September 12, 2013, Domain Registrars

Register.com, a Web.com business that is one of the top ten registrars by domains under management, has been hit by an ICANN compliance notice covering 62,232 domain names.

It’s a weird one.

ICANN says that the company has failed to provide records documenting the ownership trail of the domains in question, which all currently belong to Register.com itself.

The notice names 000123.net, 0011pp.com, 00h4.com, 010fang.net, 01rabota.com, 02071988.com and 020tong.com, but it seems that these are merely the first in a alphabetical list that is much, much longer.

Judging by DomainTools’ Whois history, these domains all appear to have been originally registered at various times by individuals in China and India, then allowed to expire, then registered by Register.com to itself.

The only common link appears to be that they were kept by Register.com after they expired, for whatever reasons registrars usually hoard their customers’ expired domains.

According to the compliance notice, ICANN wants the registrar to:

Provide a detailed explanation to ICANN how 62,232 domains in which Register.com itself is the registrant are used for the purposes of Registrar Services, as defined by Section 1.11 of the RAA;

The Registrar Accreditation Agreement says registrars have to keep registrant agreement records, except for a limited class of cases where the domain is owned by the registrar itself and used for registrar-related stuff.

Register.com, one of the original five oldest competitive registrars, has been given until October 2 to come up with the requested information for face losing its accreditation.

The registrar has almost three million gTLD domains under management. Combined with its Web.com sister registrars, which include Network Solutions, the number is closer to 10 million.

Web.com CEO talks “defensive” .web strategy

Number-three registrar Web.com applied for the new gTLD .web in order to protect a trademark, but it’s open to partnerships to secure and manage the string, according to its CEO.

But the .web contention set will take a “considerable amount of time to be resolved”, David Brown told analysts during the company’s first-quarter earnings conference call last night.

“The way we’ve always thought about .web is that given that we have a trademark on the name Web.com, we really needed to apply for .web in order to protect our trademark,” he said.

“In order to protect our trademark globally, we needed to basically defend ourselves by applying for .web, and we’re certainly interested in getting it, but it’s not our core business,” he added.

Web.com, which also owns Network Solutions and Register.com, is one of seven applicants for .web.

But the company did not file any Legal Rights Objections against its competitors, as its trademark may have permitted, reflecting a slightly relaxed attitude to the string that also came across in the yesterday’s call.

Brown said, according to the Seeking Alpha transcript:

We’ll be perfectly content if anyone gets .web because they’re going to distribute it through us, and it’s our name, and we’re advertising and building a brand in the marketplace, and we’re going to be a great deliverer of .web extensions, whoever gets it, whether it’s us or someone else.

He indicated that the ultimate winner of .web is likely to be some kind of cooperative arrangement between applicants. He said:

Our strategy has always been to cooperate. And so we’ve looked at the people who have applied, and we certainly are talking to all of them about who would benefit from this and which team would be the best team to provide services, and so that would be our strategy… We won’t bear the full load of the economics of acquisition ourselves likely. It’ll likely be shared.

To me, this screams “joint venture”, which has always been the way I’ve seen .web pan out. If you recall, when Afilias was formed to apply for .web in 2000, it was a joint venture of many leading registrars of the time.

Brown also said on the call that he expects to see the first new gTLDs get approved in the fourth quarter, but they’ll be the uncontested ones and therefore not particularly lucrative.

Web.com could also be the beneficiary of marketing dollars spent by new gTLDs to secure shelf space, he said.

NBT agrees to $236m buy-out

Kevin Murphy, September 23, 2011, Domain Registrars

Following in the footsteps of larger rival Go Daddy, the UK-based registrar Group NBT has agreed to be bought out by private investors for £153 million ($236m).

NBT owns registrars including NetNames, Ascio and Indom.

The all-cash offer comes from investors led by HgCapital and represents a 22.5% premium on the company’s closing share price yesterday.

At 550p a share, the offer stands to make a profit for anybody who has bought NBT shares in the last ten years, according to the company.

The news came as NBT reported an annual profit, excluding certain items, up organically 9% at £8.9 million ($13.8m) on revenue that was up 4% at £45.7 million ($70.6m).

Including the results from French registrar Indom, which the company acquired last December, profit was up 18% at £9.6 million ($14.8m) on revenue up 13% to £49.5 million ($76.5m)

The NBT deal is merely the latest in a series of buyouts and mergers to hit the registrar market this year.

As well as Go Daddy’s $2 billion+ change of control, Network Solutions recently sold out to Web.com for $561 million in cash and stock, and Tucows acquired EPAG Domainservices for $2.5 million.

At least one city analyst thinks the buyout timing relates to ICANN’s forthcoming new generic top-level domains program, and is bullish on Top Level Domain Holdings shares as a result.

Will the wave of consolidation continue? Who’s next?

Together at last: NetSol merges with Register.com

Kevin Murphy, August 5, 2011, Domain Registrars

The first-ever .com domain name registrar and its first-ever competitor are to merge as part of Web.com’s strategy to scale up and better compete with Go Daddy.

Web.com, which bought Register.com a little over a year ago, has now turned its attention to bigger fish. It’s agreed to buy Network Solutions for $561 million in cash and stock.

The combined company will have three million customers, revenue of over $450 million, and over nine million domains under management.

By my reckoning, this means Web.com becomes the fourth-largest registrar by domain count, a position already held by NetSol, a couple of million domains behind Tucows.

NetSol was of course the original .com registrar/registry and Register.com was the first competitor to start selling domains after ICANN introduced competition to the market.

Both registrars were briefly public companies in their own right, before being re-privatized around the same time it became apparent Go Daddy and the other discount registrars were eating their lunch.

This shared history is still evident today – both companies still sell domain names for 1999 prices, and they’re both still losing customers as a result.

CEO David Brown said on a conference call announcing the deal that Register.com is currently losing 13,000 subscribers, net, per quarter.

This is not as bad as the 20,000 per quarter at the time of the acquisition, but it’s still over 140 customers jumping ship, on average, every day.

Brown said that NetSol’s churn is similar; its customer base is “declining very slowly”, albeit from a stronger starting position.

When VeriSign sold NetSol in 2003, it said the unit had about four million customers. Today, according to Web.com’s announcement, it’s closer to two million.

The NetSol deal will enable Web.com to expand its focus from small businesses, Register.com’s core market, to medium-sized businesses too, Brown said.

“This is a unique chance for Web.com to quickly gain major scale in our sweet spot – the small and mid-size business market,” he told analysts.

The larger scale will also enable the company to ramp up its marketing efforts, he said, helping it to gain mindshare from “another company” (cough–Go Daddy–cough).

Both the NetSol and Register.com brands will stay, but the primary brand in its advertising campaigns will be Web.com

Both NetSol and Register.com still operate at very much the high-end of the pricing spectrum, having stubbornly resisted pricing pressures for the last decade.

Register.com currently sells .com domain names for $38 a year, NetSol sells them for $35.

However, on the analysts’ call, Brown discussed the success of a recent marketing campaign at Register.com, which offered domains at cheaper prices than usual.

“We discovered marketing a lower-price domain name was driving a total order value that was more than ten times higher due to additional offerings,” he said.

I wonder where they got that idea from.

Register.com settles Baidu domain hijacking lawsuit

Kevin Murphy, November 25, 2010, Domain Registrars

Register.com has apologised to Chinese portal company Baidu for allowing its domain, baidu.com, to be hijacked by the Iranian Cyber Army hacker group.

The two companies have announced that the lawsuit, which alleged gross negligence among other things, has now been settled. Terms were not disclosed.

If Baidu’s complaint was to be believed, the hackers took over baidu.com with a trivial social engineering attack that relied upon a Register.com tech support employee being asleep at the wheel.

The company is one of China’s largest internet firms, employing over 6,000 people and turning over well over $600 million a year. But for the period of the hijack, visitors to baidu.com instead just saw the hackers’ defacement message instead.

The registrar had argued in court that its terms and conditions released it from liability, but the judge didn’t buy it.

Register.com, which was acquired by Web.com for $135 million in June, said yesterday:

After an internal investigation, we found that the breach occurred because Register’s security protocols had been compromised. We have worked with United States law enforcement officials and Baidu to address the issue. We sincerely apologize to Baidu for the disruption that occurred to its services as a result of this incident.

Baidu said it accepted the apology. And the check, I imagine.

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