Securing the future of Nominet – why you should care

31st January 2021


Russell Haworth

Russell Haworth
CEO

Some of you may be aware of the proposed EGM that some members are calling for. I would start by saying that an EGM and change of board at this time would be highly destabilising to Nominet and disrupt a range of fantastic programmes that are currently underway or planned.

I understand that there are frustrations and disagreements about how we run the business, and we are open to looking at those and making any adjustments that are in the interests of the company and the wider stakeholder community we serve. More on that to come.

But in fairness to my team, I want to make sure that we don’t lose sight of the significant and important work done by Nominet.

Nominet as a Registry

Nominet has run the .UK registry with care and pride for 25 years. That means providing critical DNS infrastructure for over 10 million domains and resolving over 240 billion DNS queries per month for .UK. This infrastructure has never stopped, not even for a fraction of a second, over our 25 years of operation. We put time and effort into fantastic support that regularly achieves customer satisfaction ratings of over 90%.

We protect UK citizens and businesses by operating a wide range of controls which have made .UK one of the safest places to do business. We protect against organised crime, sexual abuse, child exploitation, extortion, modern slavery, terrorism and far more – by eliminating domains created for criminal purposes, in conjunction with our charity partners and law enforcement. We also protect businesses and their brands from counterfeiting and theft. These activities are vital, now more than ever.

In response to the pandemic, we’ve done four key things:

  1. Blocking domains: In the past year Nominet has received 6,133 registration requests for domains related to Covid 19. After extensive due diligence we approved only 1,897 – the rest assumed to be criminal ventures.
  2. Taking domains down: Domain suspensions due to criminality (in response to law enforcement requests) were around 22,000 last year, including some trying to use the pandemic as a front for criminal activity. This keeps the .UK namespace, which millions of people and businesses rely on, as secure as possible.
  3. Campaigns: We have also successfully campaigned for zero-rated access to NHS websites, and set up a Reboot programme to get devices into the hands of people who would otherwise be cut off from schooling or their community.
  4. Financial assistance for registrants: The Nominet Support Fund enabled registrars to help registrants in financial distress renew their domains.

Registry of the Future

At our board meeting last week we signed off a multi-million pound, multi-year investment into our registry platform to ensure the systems, processes and security you rely on are constantly evolving and best in class. Our aim is to be the best ccTLD in the world, which relies on great technology and people. As part of the UK’s Critical National Infrastructure, we take that role very seriously.

We believe it is possible to operate a business of this robustness, scale and complexity without the cost falling to the taxpayer – and while keeping wholesale costs well below those of our biggest competitor – .com.

We recognise that value for money is important to you as registrars and to that end these significant investments won’t impact your prices. Part of the remit of the newly announced Registry Advisory Committee (RAC) is to guide the board on prices, but our assumption is that in the current economic climate, we would not seek to change the price any time soon.

The Role of Cyber Security

Nominet has evolved considerably in the past five years in response to a fast-changing threat environment. A major registry is, by its nature, a key component of the Critical National Infrastructure. It is impossible to manage a major registry responsibly without the means to defend against increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks. Nominet’s cyber security capability is not an adjunct to our business, nor is it a random diversification initiative. Security is, and will remain, central to everything Nominet does.

Nominet now operates some of the most advanced defence technology in the world. Nominet was selected by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to protect the UK government networks for precisely that reason.

We deliver the NCSC’s PDNS programme, which last year protected an estimated 2.8 million public sector internet users and blocked about 18,000 unique domains at a rate of 7.2 million times per month.

Recently the NCSC has extended Nominet’s cyber protection, already in operation across 700 government bodies, to cover the National Health Service itself – vital at this time of national crisis. Right now a lot of highly complex and time-sensitive work is underway to rid the NHS networks of malware and protect them from ransomware and virus attacks. In response to the pandemic, Nominet also developed a Digital Roaming application, which provides cyber protection to protect public sector workers working from home.

Overall, around 5 million public sector workers are now covered by our work.

Some of our most critical work to mitigate cyber security threats on the Internet is hidden from public view. Whilst we are unable, due to security reasons, to share much of the detail, our ‘Protective DNS’ (PDNS) solution for Government is being deployed around the world.

Taken together – the industry we enable, the critical infrastructure we run, and the protective work we conduct – this adds up to a significant programme of public benefit, and contributes to the UK’s security and prosperity. Beyond this we also invest in a range of specific public benefit initiatives.

Public Benefit Today

We are fully committed to public benefit – as demonstrated by the campaign to improve the lives of a million young people. We are extremely proud of this work, which has put in place some fantastic partnerships and initiatives. Nominet has given enormous help to, among others; the Samaritans, the Scouts, The Prince’s Trust, micro:bit foundation and to five mental health charities. As a result, the programme to support our first million young people has been achieved. Now we want to do that each and every year.

The challenges facing young people growing up in a digital age are huge, now more than ever. We want to play a significant role in being part of the solution.

I can assure members who have concerns about our current levels of funding that our future plans include exciting ideas to take our programme forward, and will leave no one in doubt about the importance of the programme to the organisation.

Member engagement

Our members play a vital role in our governance and it’s important that we have the right dialogue and mechanisms in place to ensure we harness the ideas, innovations, and insights which keep the .UK domain strong.

While we have tried many different ways to engage with members, we are always looking for new ideas and I am pleased to announce that in 2021 we are launching even more channels to strengthen this close engagement. We have a whole team dedicated to engagement with members. Even in these days of lockdowns they are here for you. They are informed, helpful, and ready to answer any questions you have about our work.

Last week the Nominet Board agreed to create a Registry Advisory Council – a body composed of elected members – designed to ensure we have a regular and frequent dialogue on the issues around .UK, including .UK policy matters, involvement in the annual pricing review, challenges facing the .UK registry and those facing registrars. The Registry Advisory Council will also be briefed on Group strategy, and the focus of our public benefit projects. As the business continues to grow, we want to ensure that our focus is on ensuring .UK is relevant, trusted, and that we are working with our registrar community as effectively as possible. We have draft terms of reference, and will be seeking feedback on the proposal from tomorrow to ensure a productive outcome for all.

Financials

Nominet is a solid business in a strong financial position, with reserves that underpin our obligations as a provider of critical national infrastructure. We are investing in the technologies and opportunities that will bring benefits to members, the .UK namespace, and ultimately fund the charitable initiatives of the future. Our investment in our Protective DNS services may take time to pay off, but is already protecting key workers and delivering significant revenues, which are expected to grow as governments across the world see the value of a protective DNS approach.

Your support is critical

Nominet is a growing UK business which plays a vital role in the UK’s internet infrastructure and national security. We are a team united by a commitment to making the world more connected, inclusive and secure.

The proposed EGM will be highly disruptive to our work and our team.

But as I said up front, that does not mean we are unwilling to listen, respond or adapt to legitimate concerns. Should members wish to contact me to discuss our work or the call for the EGM, please do so.

I hope we can work together and earn your support to continue the important work that means so much to us, and plays such an important role supporting a thriving and safe digital economy.