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Nominet suspends fake pharma domains

Global pill crackdown pops 13,000 sites

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Nominet, the .uk address registry, has suspended hundreds of internet domain names as part of a global police crackdown on crime gangs peddling fake pharmaceuticals.

Operation Pangea IV saw almost 13,500 websites taken down and dozens of suspects arrested in 81 countries, according to Interpol, which coordinated the swoop.

Over 2.4 million potentially harmful counterfeit pills, worth about £4m, were seized in raids between 20 and 27 of September, Interpol said. Confiscated medicines included everything from diet pills to anti-cancer drugs.

Cops worked with customs agencies, ISPs, payment processors and delivery companies to close down the allegedly criminal operations, Interpol said.

In the UK, Nominet acted upon advice given by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and the Police Central e-Crime Unit to suspend about 500 .uk domains, according to director of operations Eleanor Bradley.

While the domains were not "seized" as some have been in the US in recent months, suspending a domain stops it from resolving, essentially shutting down the associated website.

Bradley said that Nominet worked with its registrar partners to shut down the domains, which were all in "clear breach" of either Nominet's or the registrar's terms and conditions.

"If we didn't think it was in specific breach of our terms of conditions, we would take no action against the domain name," Bradley said.

As it has on previous occasions, Nominet was able to shut down the addresses because their owners had provided bogus contact information for the Whois records, in violation of the registration agreement.

Nominet is also in the late stages of a policy development process that will formalise the ways in which law enforcement agencies can ask for domain names to be taken down, without a court order if they are believed to be hosting criminal content.

The process could be completed, and a policy implemented, before the end of the year. A Nominet working group recently held a period of public comment before finalising its recommendations.

It is not currently clear whether domain registries in other countries also cooperated with their local law enforcement agencies as part of Pangea IV, or whether police worked with web hosting providers instead.

A spokesperson for VeriSign, the registry for .com and .net, which has previously enabled the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to seize domains under court order, could not confirm or deny the company's involvement in the crackdown in time for this article's publication. ®

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