Mali offers free .ML domains to anyone. What could *possibly* go wrong?

Filed Under: Featured, Malware, Phishing, Spam

MaliIf news reports are to be believed, the West African country of Mali is planning to let anybody register .ML domain names for free.

Yes, you read that correctly.

For free.

Here's how The Register described the plan:

The .ML domain will be carved up in three phases, with a "Sunrise" phase in May and subsequent June "Land Rush" during which hundreds of generic and premium domain names will be released. Applicants are asked to contemplate "strategic partnership opportunities" during that period of time. Come July 15th, the world+dog can take their pick.

At first I thought it might be a late April Fool's joke, but it appears that a press release from Freedom Registry confirms the plan:

Press release about free .ML domains

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, let's put our thinking caps on for a minute.

  • With no cost of entry, .ML domain names will likely be snapped up quickly - not just by legitimate web users, but by online crooks who might be interested in creating phishing sites, using a .ML website to host malware, or as a redirector.
  • .ML, of course, looks really rather similar to .MIL - the TLD used by sections of the US military such as the American Navy, the Marines as well as the United States Coast Guard. Is it possible that cybercriminals might try to spoof legitimate .MIL websites by snapping up free .ML domains with confusingly similar names?
  • No payment makes it even easier for someone to register a domain name without giving their real credentials (there's no need even to use a stolen credit card for payment). If crimes are committed involving .ML domain names, it will be hard for the authorities to trace those responsible.

Will the .ML domain name giveaway really happen?

Well, it looks likely.

A subsidiary of the same company has been handing out .TK domain names for free for some time, and boasts that "Tokelau (.tk) is now the largest country code top level domain registry in the world" with "more active domain names registrations than Russia and China combined."

Alert on a .tk website

In the past we've seen lots of abuse of the .TK country code, and sure enough in the last week we have seen .TK sites being used to host malware, for phishing, and as URL shorterner services used in spam.

Quite why one of the world's poorest countries, ravaged by conflict, would want to give away .ML domain names for free is anyone's guess.

It's certainly not going to boost the nation's reputation internationally if it becomes associated with spammers, malware attacks and cybercrime.

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16 Responses to Mali offers free .ML domains to anyone. What could *possibly* go wrong?

  1. Bob · 562 days ago

    Is there a clean way to block access to all URLs in a given top-level domain? I'm thinking of something at the OS level (Windows 7) rather than browser-by-browser, if possible. But I can't find the option in IE10 anyway. There are a lot of TLDs I would need extremely rarely if ever - not being able to speak their languages, for a start.

    Having browsed a little, it seems that OpenDNS offers exactly that service. Though I'd prefer to stick with my ISP's DNS servers if possible.

    • dylan · 562 days ago

      Firewall content filtering would be the easiest IMO.

    • neil · 561 days ago

      I have been using OpenDNS to block porn and filesharing sites at work,i can confirm that it works very well.

    • J2897 · 561 days ago

      You might be able to login to your router and block them with something like...
      *.tk
      *.ml
      Have a look in your routers manual (download the one for your model from the manufacturers website) and look for "how to block a website".

    • J2897 · 561 days ago

      Another way (OS level) would be to add them to a custom host file...

      http://stackoverflow.com/questions/138162/wildcards-in-a-hosts-file

    • bind to the rescue · 561 days ago

      If you're willing to run your own DNS (potentially running forwarding queries to your ISPs DNS if you want), you can simple set up you own .tk and .ml domains, and forward them wherever you want. It will take precedence over the domains in the outside world.
      Everything using your DNS will then benefit.
      Use with whichever DNS software you prefer...

  2. acrosspg · 562 days ago

    it will be like another dot.tk domain....

  3. Jeremy · 562 days ago

    They will probably steal the spammers/scammers website. Dot.tk also seems to steal peoples domains and park them to make money. So many horror stories.

  4. @Bob: Router configuration should take care of it ;)

  5. Amy · 561 days ago

    We should all register all of the domains that would look like us military addresses and have them redirect to Naked Security :)

  6. Yours · 561 days ago

    I want to get a free .ml domain and I am not a criminal.

  7. A dot tk user · 559 days ago

    I've been a happy (honnest, I daresay) user of dot tk - several free domains, for years. They are NOT taking your domain away arbitrarily, no, but you have to follow the rules or else risk to lose it (or /buy/ a full fledged dot tk). Like everything free, dot tk might be abused but, wait, free dot tk domains are much limited in what you can do with them, they are not really registered to their users. Go to : /www.dot.tk/ for full information.

    If the free .ml domain names come with the same kind of restrictions, they will not pose much a problem to the internet community. Otherwise they may be a bargain for honnest and less than honnest people, but in either case it's not the end of the world IMVHO.

  8. hotdoge3 · 543 days ago

    I like free may be better than gmail and

    I want to get a free .ml domain and I am not a criminal.

  9. Lex · 535 days ago

    Looks like a loss leader to me. Free domains today, people pour in, then two or three years from now they could charge a few bucks to renew. Could make a lot more money in the long run.

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.