Does your school own its domain?

Most schools have an IT company that helps run their internal infrastructure and handles all the technical details of keeping it running.

At some point that they may have been asked to register domain names on behalf of the school, for operating websites etc, but did they enter the registrant details correctly? Who owns the domain? What happens if you switch companies and you are unable to get control of your domain back?

Is the domain registered to you?

Most details on company-owned domain names are publically available in the domain name records, so it is easy to check if your details are correct by doing a WHOIS lookup. There are many websites that provide WHOIS lookup services, and here’s one example:

Lookup your WHOIS Record

You just need to enter your domain name. For example we would enter “swgfl.org.uk”, and you can see our record here. The important bit is the Registrant Contact; this is the part of the record that denotes ownership and should contain your school name and address.

There are up to two other names and addresses that may be listed here, those are the Administrative Contact and Technical Contact. They specify who administers the domain (i.e. the payment part of it), and who manages the technical details.

If you pay your IT company to register the domain for you, then it is fine for their name to appear on the Administrative Contact information, and they should also be the Technical Contact, as they handle setting up the DNS records and other technical details for you.

Problems that can occur

It may seem like a small detail, but if it all goes south, you may find it difficult to wrestle control of your domain name back without incurring downtime and cost.

Example Scenario

Your IT company stops responding to phone calls and emails, and you find out they have gone bust. You procure a new IT company to take over, and a few months later, the services attached to your domain suddenly aren’t working. You phone your new IT company and they tell you that the domain name has expired.

But you cannot get in touch with the original company, so you are unable to instruct them to renew it or transfer it. The registrar (the company that registers it with the central authority) will not deal with you, because you are not listed as the owner.

Explanation

Domain registrars deal with thousands of domain names, and can only use the information they have on account and the details on the domain name record to verify you are who you say you are.

Obviously if you registered and renew the domain from your own account, this will give you ultimate control, because you can give your IT company access to update technical details, but you can revoke access at any time, and you can renew and repoint domains yourself.

But if you don’t have access to any sort of control panel, you are entirely reliant on the entity that does. That may be fine if you are listed as the owner on the domain name, because worst case scenario, they can verify you are the true owner by sending a verification email to the address listed on the domain name record, and then reassign ownership to you.

How do you get the domain back?

If you are not listed on the record and are unable to regain control of the domain, you may have no choice but to let the domain re-enter the pool of available domains and then re-purchase it.

The problem with this is that there is normally a cooling off period of between 60 days and 3 months, where the domain will not work, but will not be available for anyone else to buy. It will normally show a domain parking page with advert on it during this period.

Mitigate the Risk

This is a simple fix to make sure you are listed as the owner on the domain record; it may also be prudent to make sure you have control of the account that manages the domain so you are in control of keeping the domain renewed, and can change technical details if necessary.

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