At the beginning of each year, we look back on the past year and the trends in the world of domain names with Philip Du Bois, general manager of DNS Belgium. But Philip also explains the plans and ambitions for 2022.
More .be domain names due to the coronavirus
In 2020, we saw a significant rise in the number of .be domain names, probably because the coronavirus brought with it an accelerated digitalisation of our society. That trend continued in 2021, albeit less significant.
Philip: "Most of the entrepreneurs who brought their business online because of the coronavirus crisis had probably already taken that step in 2020. If we take the 'pre-coronavirus year' 2019 as a reference, we see a lot more domain name registrations in 2021. But what is even better news for the digitalisation of our economy: the new registrations from 2020 do not appear to be one-day wonders. In 2021, many people renewed their 2020 domain names. We can thereby assume that a large percentage of those domain names were actually used.”
What key objectives did DNS Belgium achieve in 2021?
Philip: “Operational stability and efficiency remain our main objectives and we achieved a clean sheet in 2021, as they say in football. We haven't dropped a single stitch in terms of quality of service. This means that the surfing experience to sites with a .be domain name was optimal.
We scored better on customer satisfaction than our target every month. And that's for the first time since we started measuring it. We set the bar high for ourselves in any event. We try to help everyone who turns to us with an Internet problem, even if it has absolutely nothing to do with domain names. Finally, we have scored very well in terms of staff motivation for several years in a row. That is also one of our important strategic KPIs.”
Corporate Social Responsibility
Digital for Youth is an important initiative on the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) front. Far fewer laptops were donated than in 2020, but the results are still very nice.
Philip: “2020 was an unexpected success for Digital for Youth. We were able to hand out almost 15,000 laptops. In 2021, we arrived at almost 4,000. The laptop market is suffering from a shortage of chips. When companies have to wait for new laptops, they don't get rid of the old ones and we can't get hold of any. Initially, Digital for Youth envisaged 1,500 laptops per year, so 4,000 laptops is not bad at all. We hope to reach the same number in 2022 as in 2021.”
What other plans and ambitions does DNS Belgium have on the CSR front?
Philip: "We are continuing to work on the 'Charter for Sustainable Entrepreneurship’. We have committed ourselves to carrying out 20 to 30 actions a year, spread across the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. We aspire to earn the title of SDG ambassador by 2025. One of the most talked-about measures from 2021 is the replacement of all company cars with full EVs. We will implement this plan in the next 4 years. In 2022, one third of the fleet will consist of electric vehicles and is slated to become fully electric in 2025.”
“We mainly want to motivate or inspire other players to also do their bit for the climate in the coming years. We share our knowledge with our European peers, because the most obvious climate measures are also positive for finances. This message is often very convincing. And we also work with 400 partners to bring our .be domain names to end users in an easy way. We also want to encourage these partners to become more sustainable. Mind you, there are already many partners with their own sustainability programme.”
Focus on cyber security
Cyber security remains an important focus for DNS Belgium. Registrant verification is an initiative from 2021. Were there any other initiatives in that area?
Philip: “We worked on Registrant Verification mainly in 2020-2021. In 2022 we will gradually automate that verification for new domain name registrations. We want to check the identity of registrants for all new domain name registrations by the end of this year. Someone who discloses his identity for a domain name registration will not be inclined to misuse that domain name for phishing , to spread malware or for other fraudulent practices.”
We have several initiatives in the research phase, such as our predictive phishing model, where we try to predict whether some newly registered domain names will be abused for phishing. We use artificial intelligence for this and we work closely together with the Catholic University of Leuven.
DNS Belgium checks inter alia the registration details of domain name holders more quickly, and takes fake web shops offline more quickly. Has the general public noticed anything of these increased efforts against cyber crime?
Philip: ‘“That is difficult to say because you do not know the total number of fake web shops or domain names that criminals use for scams. What we do see is that we suspended more domain names in 2021 than in the previous two years. Did our methods become more efficient or was there more abuse? That remains a game of cat and mouse. But given our very active approach to fraud, we assume that .be is a reasonably clean zone.”
Is there still a lot of awareness-raising to be done in the field of cyber security?
Philip: "I have a feeling that the general public is slowly becoming aware of the dangers of cyber crime. We have heard so many stories in recent years of companies being scammed with phishing or ransomware. More and more people are realising that they need a minimum level of protection online. But of course we are not yet where we need to be. That is why we also continue to focus on campaigns for specific target groups, whom we want to make aware of the dangers in the cyber world and how they can arm themselves against them.”
The NIS2 directive that is on its way plays a prominent role on a European level. This may result in a whole host of new obligations for players such as DNS Belgium. “To be perfectly clear, this is something we welcome,” says Philip. “We are even anticipating a number of these rules because we really believe they will benefit cyber security. The Registrant Verification project is a case in point.”
“In addition, there are of course also all kinds of rulings by data protection authorities in Europe that follow the GDPR. They may not have a direct impact on the Belgian situation, but they are certainly important to follow because the Data Protection Authority in Belgium can make a similar ruling at any time. Some of those rulings make us think hard about our current cloud solution with AWS. It is good that we re-examine our decisions and choices of a few years ago to see whether they are still correct in a changed context. So there will be something happening in 2022.”