A high percentage of UK businesses have no idea that the Internet's top-level domains (TLDs) are to be liberalised next year and some of those who do fear it will simply put them at the mercy of cybersquatters, an in-depth survey for domain outfit Gandi has found.

The survey of over 1,000 UK-based respondents, including 100 large retail and SME business managers, found a degree of frustration with the current domain naming structure, which restricts businesses and individuals to buying names from a limited number of possibilities, such as .com, .net. and .co.uk. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they had to settle for domain names or extensions other than the ones they wanted, for instance.

It might be assumed, then, that ICANN's (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) proposed 2010 expansion of domain names to include new structures such as geographical names (.London and .Paris), company names (.Nike, .Coke), and even themed names (.God) would meet with unqualified approval.

As has proved the case with the wider business and technical community during ICANN's consultation period in the last year, the survey found a mixed picture.

Two thirds of respondents had not even heard that the changes will take place next year, and the generally positive view on the commercial possibilities of new TLDs was offset by worry that the change would ignite a new wave of security problems. Sixty-five percent of those asked said that domain squatters could cause them problems, while 82 percent worried about the use of domains to launch website attacks and generate spam.

Sixty-five percent of the consumers surveyed for the report thought that the domain name expansion would simply lead to large numbers of ‘pointless' or misleading domains.

"This is an exciting change," said Gandi's Wendy White. "But if liberalisation is to bring the benefits it promises, it needs to be handled carefully. Because as soon as the billboards, squatters and criminals move in, all the prime properties and interested web visitors will move out," she admitted with a degree of honesty about a business that stands to hugely benefit her company's bottom line as customers pay fees to register new domains.

Quite how the expansion of TLDs can be handled ‘carefully' is not clear because ICANN's remit does not extend beyond managing the technical process of change in addition to some of the root servers upon which the Internet is founded. Securing their use comes down to registrars in each country, and in practice it is extremely difficult to control who registers what and for what purpose.

Gandi itself notes in its report document that MarkMonitor's ‘brandjacking' index was reported to have seen an 18 percent increase in 2008 over levels a year earlier. And even when no brandjacking is involved, companies still faced heavy costs registering a multitude of new domains in order to protect the reputation of their brands.

As controversial as ICANN's domain proposals have been, the US-based organisation has at least tried to stem fears by proposing to stop common domain abuses techniques such as fast fluxing. That hasn't stopped the the EU from challenging organisation's governance, suggesting that an international body be set up that would be completely free of US control.