January 21, 2011

What's one way to prevent random disgruntled members of the public from building easy-to-find websites ridiculing your bank and its top executives? Simple: buy up every possible threatening domain name out there.

A news article published Thursday by PBS TV and web-newsmagazine Need to Know alleges Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America is doing just that, taking the initiative to proactively counter any dirt that online whistleblower WikiLeaks might or might not publish about the bank. As Need to Know reports, the bank appears to be using a company called MarkMonitor Inc., which essentially deflects attacks on a company's image by seizing domain names that could be used against them.

This is exactly what MarkMonitor appears to be doing for Bank of America, snapping up more than 400 domain names (such as brianmoynihansucks.com) in recent weeks that could feasibly be used as destinations for leveling hatred at the company. Notably the list of domains doesn’t center on Bank of America as much as it does senior executives and board members, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out recently.

MarkMonitor's website boasts that it serves more than half of the Fortune 100. Brand abuse and counterfeit sales are among the reasons a company would choose to deploy this type of defense.

And it's a valid concern among banks and financial institutions still trying to regain trust in the wake of financial crisis. Pile on top of that the insinuations from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that he has classified data from, and will next choose to target a top American bank, and as he told Forbes, "give some insight into how banks behave at the executive level."

The measures MarkMonitor might be taking on behalf of BofA seem increasingly to be the cost of doing business in a world where anyone can become a target online, and where the general public is always seeking the next big reason to get fired up.