The consequences of a data breach can range from relatively harmless to potentially costly. You may already have multi-factor authentication turned on everywhere, only use strong passwords, and never click on a suspicious link.
But if you’ve ever registered a domain name, you may not be as secure as you think.
When you register a domain as a website owner, you are required to provide contact info — your phone number, email address, and mailing address. This information isn’t private by default and can be the gateway to some unfortunate outcomes with shady characters on the internet. That’s why we’re here to help you understand the measures you can take to protect yourself.
In this article, we’ll discuss domain privacy protection — what it is, why it’s worth investing in, the potential trade-offs involved, and how to enable it. Let’s get started!
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We believe you should be able to control how much of your personal information is shared online. DreamHost includes WHOIS Domain Privacy at no cost for the life of your domain.
What Is Domain Name Privacy?
Domain name privacy (also called WHOIS privacy) is a service offered by domain name registrars to keep your personal contact information from being publicly displayed in the WHOIS directory. That directory is a public database of all website domain names, which includes contact details about the owner of each domain, and can be accessed by anyone.
The WHOIS directory is maintained by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the organization responsible for introducing Top-Level Domains (TLDs). ICANN requires that the following information be associated with each domain:
- Mailing address
Let’s take a look at why you’d want to keep your WHOIS information private, beyond just the fact that “it’s exposed.”
Why There’s a Need for Domain Name Privacy
Several different websites enable you to do a WHOIS lookup, including the official ICANN site. It’s easy to understand why this directory exists — having a central and public database of domain names and their owners can come in handy if there’s ever a legal dispute over ownership.
More than that, however, is the accountability this system affords in cases of cybercrimes and copyright theft. Information acquired from the WHOIS database can be used to limit the malicious behavior of offenders across the internet.
Here are some of the most common ways people typically use information from the WHOIS directory:
- To buy a domain that’s not currently available. Business owners sometimes find that the domain name that matches their unique brand has been taken. The WHOIS directory is one way to find the current owner of the domain and offer to buy it. This is particularly relevant if, for example, that person doesn’t have a live website containing their contact details.
- For unsolicited marketing efforts. If you have a domain name, you’re probably either looking to build a website or already have one. Therefore, you can expect to receive dozens of emails from marketers offering to help you build or redesign your website.
- For running scams. Aside from spam emails, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll receive emails from people who’d like nothing more than to scam you out of your website’s data or profits.
As you can see, there are ways that those with both good and bad intentions can use the WHOIS database. The bad will outweigh the good for most people, however, especially if you’re not a large corporation that can simply use the public address of its headquarters in its WHOIS details.
The Pros and Cons of Domain Name Privacy
At this point, let’s take a closer look at what you stand to gain or lose when you opt for domain name privacy, rather than sharing your information openly.
- You protect your personal contact information since all identifying details will be replaced by the domain registrar.
- You’ll avoid some spam (meaning less work for your spam filters) and attempted scams.
- You can mitigate the risk of having your site hacked (and your customers’ details compromised) or hijacked completely.
- You are sometimes charged a premium for this service, which can be anywhere between $10 to $30 (in addition to usual domain hosting fees).
- You risk creating a false sense of security. Your protection is still not 100% guaranteed, as disreputable companies may sell your personal information.
- Ownership of your domain name is less legitimate. The entity whose details is listed in the WHOIS database for a domain is considered its legal owner.
It’s worth noting that here at DreamHost, we offer domain privacy for free, which mitigates one of the chief disadvantages. This means that for most users, the positives of keeping their domains private will outweigh the few drawbacks.
Before moving on, we should also mention that some TLDs have special circumstances, and domain name privacy may either be attached by default or be forbidden. These include:
- Privacy by default. Domains such as .al, .gr, .ca, .is, and .uk have varying levels of restrictions placed on them. For some, no information about the owner is disclosed, whereas for others, the owner’s home address may be hidden but not their full name.
- Privacy is forbidden. This applies to domains like .us, .in, and .it.
So when deciding whether or not you want to make your domain private, you’ll also want to consider your TLD and find out if it has any special rules.
Related: The History of Internet Privacy
How to Enable Domain Name Privacy for Your Website
There is no one right answer as to whether you should or shouldn’t enable domain name privacy. It’s a recommended step for most users, but the pros and cons detailed above should also guide your decision-making process.
If you do decide to pursue domain name privacy, there are a few ways to do so:
- Get a secondary email and P.O box. This is a costlier method than paying for domain privacy (around $100 on average), but it is an option. You just replace your own address with that of a P.O box and create a secondary email you don’t use for anything important (so it doesn’t matter how many spam or scam emails are sent to it).
- Use a domain name privacy service. Entering your personal details anywhere online obviously comes with some risk, but this can be mitigated by keeping that data private. Domain registrars can replace your information with anonymous details so that only they have access to that data.
If you have a website here at DreamHost, adding domain privacy is easy!
You’ll start by visiting the Registrations page of your DreamHost control panel and using the checkbox to enable privacy for your desired domain.
Just check “I want all my contact information private” and save your changes. That’s all you need to do!
Get Domain Protection Today
Although the WHOIS public directory has an important role to play, it is often misused for purposes such as scams and identity theft. So while you may be painstakingly keeping your personal details protected everywhere else, you might be sabotaging those efforts by leaving your details exposed in the directory. Investing in domain name privacy is a practical way to protect both you and your website’s visitors.
Want a painless process for your next domain registration? Try DreamHost for hundreds of unique TLDs, straightforward pricing, and free WHOIS Domain Privacy!