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My Domain Has Been Hijacked. Help!

Sun, 23rd April 2017, 13:34

The integrated Canadian steel producer Algoma Steel has lost much of its sheen from those lofty rail and iron horse days of the early 20th century. Founded in 1902, the company appears to have spent more time in recent years going from one court proceeding to another than it has producing the products its name suggest. In 2004 after emerging from another round of bankruptcy protection, the company under the guidance of then President and CEO Denis Turcotte had a resurgence of sorts and became quite profitable before being purchased by India's Essar Group for US$ 1.63 billion in April 2007.

The latest twist in the saga of Essar Steel Algoma ongoing drama fests with workers, investors, debtors, governments etc etc involves the company's tech services. More specifically its domain name.

Recently the Ontario's Superior Court was asked to order New Delhi-based Net4, an Internet domain registrar and web hosting company, to transfer the Algoma.com domain registration back to the Sault Ste. Marie steelmaker. The Algoma domain is owned by Essar Steel Algoma, but in 2008 registration was moved to a Net4 account controlled by Jayantha Prabhu, chief information officer at the parent company Essar Group.

Court documents suggest that Prabhu has not responded to requests to arrange to have the control of the domain transferred back to Canada. Essar Algoma wants Algoma.com hosted at GoDaddy instead of Net4, with the account registered to an Algoma employee.

Brenda Stenta, Essar Algoma's manager of corporate communications, in a sworn affidavit stated:

“All access to Essar Algoma's webmail, mobility gateway, customer portal, virtual private network and other applications goes through the Algoma.com domain. The Algoma domain is an essential asset in the operation of Algoma's business. The Algoma domain serves as the principal gateway for all of Algoma's email, webmail and world wide web facing applications, including Algoma's website and secure customer web interface. Algoma needs the ability to control all material operational elements of the Algoma domain. Algoma is currently unable to do so because the Algoma domain is registered in Essar India's customer account on Net4, and because the administrative contact on the account, Mr. Prabhu, is not an employee of Algoma,"

"Mr. Prabhu's unresponsiveness and unwillingness to co-operate in transferring the Algoma domain to a customer account controlled by Algoma is unreasonable and prevents Algoma from exercising its rights as the legal owner of the Algoma domain," said Ashley Taylor, a lawyer acting for Essar Steel Algoma, in a filed court factum.

Meanwhile, Net4 says it needs a resolution from Essar Steel Algoma's board to transfer the account to GoDaddy, but two company directors are said to be unwilling to participate because board meetings are no longer held and directors are not being paid for their services. (editor’s note: okay drama fest may be an understatement)

While the continuing soap opera at Essar Steel Algoma is unique for its twists and turns, losing control of a domain name is a common enough occurrence. Hostjury has written about this on prior occasion like when a thief was targeting "Web Design" domains. While that one also had some unique attributes, there are numerous scenarios where domains are ‘hijacked’ by disgruntled employees, partners, through hacking, social engineering, or even the numerous horror stories on the web about domains being stolen by someone’s webhost.

As noted in the Essar Algoma case, controlling the domain name can also mean access to a company’s email, website, customer portal, virtual private network and/or other applications that are dependent on the domain. It can be essential for the operation of a business and can really be an issue.

So how does one go about regaining control of their domain. The real easy answer is don’t lose control in the first place. In most cases, with few exceptions, there are no simple answers although boutique law firms have sprung up with ‘domain name lawyers’ coming out from under their rocks to help you answer that question!

The body assigned to oversee domains, ICANN/Internic has put in place Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policies.

Many, if not most, web hosting companies and domain registrars use wholesale domain name registrar like Enom. They are effectively just reselling domains, which makes sense if domains are a small part of the bottom line and the host doesn’t want to get ICANN accredited to sell generic domain extensions. When these resellers don’t play by the rules, although frustrating and time consuming, it is relatively simple to regain control of the domain.

Relief can also be sought through the domain registrar and ICANN in some instances where there is evidence that the domain’s control was maliciously reassigned through hacking or social engineering (someone gaining access to your account by posing as the owner).

It’s cases where there is some hint that control was voluntarily relinquished, then it gets dicey.

It should be self explanatory but never do business with a web developer or webhost that even suggests registration of the domain name in their own name. The domain owner must control the registrant login and information at the registrar level. This means that the company/owner itself must be listed as the registrant, and the primary email contact must be the owner or a high level company employee. The web host or web developer can, in some instances, legitimately be listed as the administrative contact.

Many a good lawyer (editor’s note: well if that isn’t a good oxymoron!) will tell you “If the company can establish that the domain name is protected by trademark, then that trademark can be leveraged against any other third-party registrant. Only the trademark holder is allowed to register a protected domain name”… except ICANN has these rules stating…

“All registrars must follow the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (often referred to as the "UDRP"). Under the policy, most types of trademark-based domain-name disputes must be resolved by agreement, court action, or arbitration before a registrar will cancel, suspend, or transfer a domain name. Disputes alleged to arise from abusive registrations of domain names (for example, cybersquatting) may be addressed by expedited administrative proceedings that the holder of trademark rights initiates by filing a complaint with an approved dispute-resolution service provider. To invoke the policy, a trademark owner should either (a) file a complaint in a court of proper jurisdiction against the domain-name holder (or where appropriate an in-rem action concerning the domain name) or (b) in cases of abusive registration submit a complaint to an approved dispute-resolution service provider.

While going to court may be one possibility to regain control of your domain, it’ likely neither the cheapest, nor the fastest option.

Domain Name: algoma.com
Registrar URL: http://www.net4.in/
Creation Date: 1996-02-11T05:00:00Z
Registrar Registration Expiration Date: 2018-02-12
Registrar: Net 4 India Limited
Registrant Organization: Essar Steel Algoma Inc
Registrant Country: CA
Registrant Email: [email protected]

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