Most of us wouldn’t be able to find the tiny set of Pacific atolls collectively known as Tokelau even if we were pointed in the right direction.
The three atolls take up 3.9 square miles in the middle of a vast ocean and are home to 1,500 people.
It is estimated that much of the world’s cybercrime can be traced back to servers using the small country’s Internet domain.
How did this happen? How can the last place on Earth to get telephone service in 1997 be a host to 31 million registered domains, which in 2016 was more than any other country in the world?
This is due to a man named Joost Zuurbier from the Netherlands who spotted an opportunity in 2000 to acquire an unknown corner of the Internet.
ICANN, the organization tasked with managing all domains on the Internet from the common “.com” and “.net” to the ones for specific countries, including Tokelau, set up the “.tk” domain in 2000, but no one in Tokelau knew what to do with it because no one there had Internet.
In stepped Zuurbier, who offered to help the country manage its infrastructure, which consisted of setting up a few servers, and in exchange he would manage the domain for the country.
He set up free domains that could be used by anyone – and in rushed a host of cyber criminals. The free domains enabled them to easily set up disposable sites for criminal activities.
Zuurbier has done this with other small countries in what is termed “digital colonialism,” and according to the Cybercrime Information Center, Zuurbier’s sites were the origin of 60% of all phishing campaigns worldwide.
Now, Meta has taken on Zuurbier and is suing him and his company Freenom in an attempt to shut the problem down at the source.