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LegitScript to Release Monthly Data on Rogue Internet Pharmacy Registrar Clustering

John Horton

One of the most important debates in the realm of Internet governance pertains to when, how and how much voluntary action registrars can and should take to prevent the use of their registration platforms in furtherance of criminal activity.

In the Internet pharmacy world, the trend over the past four years has been unmistakable: A growing number of registrars worldwide, large and small, recognize the value of prohibiting the use of their registration services by websites selling unregulated or unapproved drugs, selling drugs without required pharmacy licenses or offering prescription drugs without a prescription. This activity is not merely illegal in virtually every jurisdiction globally, but can also result in serious health consequences. Among the many registrars who, to their credit, suspend and lock domain names shown to be engaged in such illegal activity are Name.com, eNom, GoDaddy, DomainContext, Directi (PDR), URL Solutions, Internet.bs, Center for Ukrainian Internet Names, GandiSAS and several others.

The Importance of Voluntary Compliance

By choosing responsible corporate governance, the registrars above set the industry standard for voluntary compliance. This is a credit to the registrar community as a whole. Of particular importance, the registrars above take the position that they do not require a court order or UDRP to act — a position explicitly endorsed by ICANN compliance. After all, the Internet is global; which jurisdictions' court order is a registrar supposed to be subject to? What if the rogue Internet pharmacy targets customers everywhere except the registrar's jurisdiction so law enforcement in that country has no grounds for a court order? For these and other reasons, Internet compliance works best when registrars take voluntary, measured actions to prevent the use of their services by criminal entities — and, in the long term, this helps to reduce pressure toward government oversight of the Internet.

But perhaps predictably, rogue Internet pharmacy domain names cluster at the limited number of registrars that permit or turn a blind eye to rogue Internet pharmacy activity on their platforms — a phenomenon that LegitScript documented in our April 2012 report and analysis.

An Effort to Discourage Registrars as Safe Havens

Last month, LegitScript released updated data identifying the top registrars that serve as platforms for rogue Internet pharmacies: in order, ABSystems, Moniker, the Momentous Group (primarily Rebel.com), Joker and Cloud Group Limited are the top five, followed by 0101 Internet (which has since fixed the problem), TodayNIC, Tucows, BizCN and WebNIC.cc. In an effort to achieve greater transparency, and to prod these registrars to take additional steps to improve the integrity of their platforms, we are going to try to release monthly updates showing how and where rogue Internet pharmacy domain names cluster.

LegitScript has reached out to these registrars — in some cases on multiple occasions, providing dozens of pages worth of evidence. For example, consider 'meds-easy.com', registered with Moniker. The website sells oxycodone, morphine, and hydrocodone (typically known as Vicodin) without a valid prescription. Most registrars, in LegitScript's experience, would quickly suspend and lock this domain name. By contrast, LegitScript has reached out more than once to Moniker — our unanswered notifications to Moniker date back nearly four years, to late 2008 — but Moniker continues to permit re-registration of the domain name and provides the registrant with privacy protection services, thereby providing the drug seller a safe platform to anonymously market addictive medications.

Examples of rogue Internet pharmacies registered with each of the top ten registrars are provided on LegitScript's blog.

This data is, we think, valuable and important for a few reasons. First, transparency is a fundamental benefit provided by the Internet: The more information that all Internet users (including individuals, brand owners and governments) have about disparities in registrar policies and the enforcement thereof, the more transparent the Internet becomes. Second, the registrar community as a whole, being largely self-regulated (or, regulated via ICANN and registries), benefits from better information regarding disparities in voluntary compliance in the community. Third, if the registrars that profit from illegal online drug sales genuinely believe they have no contractual or moral responsibility to do anything about it, that's a conversation that the Internet community should have, openly and transparently.

Changes from April 2012

The response to LegitScript's reporting and notification has had a positive effect. Three of the registrars in our April 2012 Top 10 list — Internet.bs, the Center for Ukrainian Internet Names and Name.com — have done an outstanding job in disabling illegal content and are far from our current Top 10. Even one of the registrars we reported just last month, 0101 Internet, has already fixed its problems. By contrast, DirectNic, Moniker, Joker and Tucows continue to serve as platforms for illegal drug activity on the Internet. Top-ranked ABSystems is a unique case in that it appears to be a "boutique" registrar that exists for the sole or primary purpose of providing domain name registration support for one of the world's largest Internet pharmacy networks commonly known as RxPayouts — a "rogue registrar." As we have stated in the past, because the registrar appears to be the hub of the organized Internet pharmacy network itself, LegitScript sees no recourse other than deaccreditation for ABSystems.

(Please see LegitScript's blog for additional data and rogue Internet pharmacy examples.)

As the number of registrars taking action against cybercrime grows, illicit online businesses will flee to registrars that they perceive as "safe." LegitScript data clearly shows a dramatic winnowing of the rogue Internet pharmacy market to just a few registrars, with the uncertainty surrounding which registrars are "safe" becoming a major disruption to rogue Internet pharmacy criminal networks. Accordingly, we encourage the registrars listed in our Top 10 safe haven list to put Internet safety first, and give rogue online pharmacies nowhere to run.

By John Horton, President of LegitScript. More blog posts from John Horton can also be read here.

Related topics: Cybercrime, Domain Names, Internet Governance, Law

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