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So in theory, scam artists could register something like .savingsbank and confuse people. “You can probably imagine that if someone registers .wellsfargobank and customers erroneously try to go to http://wellsfargobank/; then the end user customer is maybe not going to get the ‛wellsfargobank’ they thought they were asking for,” says Paul Vixie, chairman and chief scientist of Internet Systems Consortium, a nonprofit developer of Internet software and protocols.

There is a limiting factor on such concerns, of course; would-be creators of new top-level domains will have to fork over $185,000 and go through a bureaucratic process to win approval, notes Richard Lamb, who is in charge of domain-name security deployment at ICANN. By contrast, it’s far easier to set up a similar domain name—say, wellsfargobanc.com—to fool people. But the consensus of ICANN’s board is that the overall security risks of the new effort are low. The details of their discussions can be found here.

But Lamb adds that glitches might arise if users try to reach new top-level domains without typing any dots—such as http://canon or similar addresses.

Some operating systems will first look to see if “canon” exists as part of the local domain (for example: canon.technologyreview.com) and then send you there. Similar problems could pertain to e-mail systems. “Fresh from the meeting floor this week, there have been discussions about how the lack of dots in the new top-level domains may get misinterpreted by existing software,” Lamb said. 

Either the new top-level domains will need to be preceded by dots, or software will have to change.

The process that led to the new top-level domains was years in the making, and involved the full range of Internet participants from around the world: governments, businesses, technology experts, and end users.

Steve Crocker, vice chair of ICANN’s board of directors and an architect of the Internet’s original protocols, says it will be fascinating to see how all of these participants adopt and react to new top-level domains. “I hope that this is studied in business schools going forward and analyzed in many ways,” he said in his remarks last week. “And we’ll look back and try to understand what the results were compared to what we expected.”

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