A domain name is not only an identification string but also your business identity. It can provide you with instant credibility in the online world, whether you are just starting out or already running an established business.
And like most things in life, domain names also come with an expiration date. As your business grows and expands, you might unintentionally replace the domain name or let the old one expire.
But have you ever wondered what happens to a domain name once it expires? Are abandoned domain names a security risk, and why? You'll find out below.
What Happens Once a Domain Name Expires?
An expired domain name is up for grabs, waiting for anyone to take ownership of it. However, there is a gradual process to it.
When a domain passes the expiration date, it enters into the renewal grace period, during which the domain registrars forward it to a parking page. This gives the owners a chance to renew the domain if they forget. Depending on your domain registrar, the grace period can be anywhere from 30 days to two weeks or less.
Once the grace period is over, the redemption period starts. This is when the registrar sends a delete request to the registry—controlled by the Top Level Domain (TLD) such as Verisign for .COM or CIRA for .CA. Only the former domain registrant can recover the domain name during this time, but there is a fee involved.
And finally, 60 days post expiration (if the owner didn't renew the domain by this point), it enters a pending delete period for five days, after which it gets published to a domain drop list. Domain investors, search marketers, and cybercriminals all scavenge this list regularly to score quality domain names. At this point, the domain name is auctioned on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Why Are Expired Domain Names a Security Concern?
There is no guarantee that the person buying your ex-domain is not a cybercriminal or a threat actor whose sole intent is to use it for malicious reasons.
A report from Palo Alto Networks identifies that a vast amount of dormant domains are malicious.
Here are the main reasons why expired domains are a threat to your privacy:
- The new domain owners can have access to everything associated with your expired domain, such as email, personal information, financial details, as well as legal and confidential documents.
- Your email is at the risk of being assumed. The new owners will be able to send and receive emails associated with your domain, thus allowing them to intercept any emails coming from your prior email address.
- Over time, a domain accumulates a vast history that cybercriminals can exploit. For example, they can re-register the domain and pose as your company to defraud your customers.
- Sometimes cybercriminals buy domains in bulk and set them up with parked pages to generate traffic to malicious links or even spread malware. While this wouldn't harm you personally, imagine how bad you would feel if they used your expired domain to propagate such harm.
- Cybercriminals might buy your abandoned domain and then use it for spam advertising or link-building. This could seriously put your reputation at stake.
- If you have an established business with stable traffic, cybercriminals could use your expired domain to set up fake e-commerce and phishing websites. They might also offer deep discounts to phish people on these fake websites. This way, they can capture the credit card data of naive buyers to sell it on the dark web later.
Once your expired domain falls into the wrong hands, it can cause irreversible damage. From impersonating your business to using your email, ruining your business reputation, and taking advantage of your customers, there's no end to the amount of harm that cybercriminals can incur.
Tips to Avoid Letting Your Domain Name Expire
If you have a domain with past activity, but it's tied to your brand identity, then do not let it expire at any cost. Once you lose ownership of your established domain, it is fair game for anyone, including the cybercriminals.
Here are some tips that will prevent your domain from getting expired:
Do Not Ignore Any Reminder Emails
Most domain registrars send multiple reminder emails as your domain comes close to its end date. Make sure you're not ignoring those emails and putting them on the back burner.
Besides keeping an eye out for reminder emails, also be aware of domain slamming. This is a malicious tactic where sometimes unethical registrars might send you fake domain expiration or renewal warnings. If you don't pay attention, you might terminate or renew a domain with the wrong registrar.
Enable Auto-Renew of Your Domain
The best way to protect against your domain getting expired is to set up auto-renewals. All domain registrars offer this feature, but it can only work if your credit card info on file is up-to-date.
Check your domain account periodically to ensure there's no lapse in your service or renewal.
Register or Renew Your Domain for a Longer Term
Domain names can be registered and renewed for up to ten years. This not only saves you time, but you can also protect your domain from getting expired while saving money on renewal fees which are usually higher than the initial registration.
So, register or renew your domain for the longest period, whenever possible.
Keep Your Contact Information Up to Date
Did you recently move, change jobs, or change your phone or email addresses? Don't forget to update your domain records with the new changes. This will ensure that you don't miss out on any reminder emails or important communication from your domain registrar.
When it comes to preserving your domain, it is vital to keep all the information tied to your domain up to date.
Keep Your Domain Even if You Don't Use It
A domain name is not a tangible commodity like owning a car or a boat, and hence, most people let it expire without blinking an eye. But if you're serious about your privacy and financial security, it's best to avoid a domain name from getting expired, even if you don't intend to use it any longer.
But what if you want to change your domain name? The easiest and most secure option would be to have your old URL redirect users to your new site. And, if you really want to get rid of your domain (in case you go out of business), make sure to sell it to a trusted source instead of letting it get auctioned on the domain drop list.