• Sun. Sep 24th, 2023

Former CyberNB website now promotes online casinos

Former CyberNB website now promotes online casinos

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A website that used to promote New Brunswick’s cybersecurity sector has been repurposed by an anonymous new owner and is now promoting a number of online casinos. 

CyberNB, a former economic development agency and branch of Opportunities New Brunswick, shut down last year, around the same time its government funding was phased out.

Its former internet domain, cybernb.ca, became available last summer from the registrar MyID.ca, when it wasn’t renewed. 

Now, the website has new ownership that is not listed publicly, but according to the updated site, it belongs to “a team of enthusiasts who specialize in cybersecurity in general and secure online casino gaming in particular.” 

Several casinos are profiled on the site and endorsed as reliable.

Ryk Edelstein of 5-L Technology in Montreal says if a domain expires after a website operator shuts down, anyone can buy it and their privacy can be protected so their identity doesn’t show up in public directories. (Submitted by Ryk Edelstein)

“You’re going out of business, you’re closing down operations, the last thing I think you’re going to care about is what happens to your domain, but the fact that they’re a cybersecurity-based organization is kind of ironic here,” said Ryk Edelstein, a data privacy expert and cybersecurity consultant based in Montreal. 

Edelstein declined to comment on the security and reliability of any of the casinos promoted on cybernb.ca, and did not find anything illegal happening there, but said its current state is odd.

A work in progress

Nowhere on cybernb.ca is anyone asked for money and neither are there any links to casinos where you can pay money to play online games, but some sections, such as the Questions and Answers, resemble standard components of actual online casino sites. 

His best guess is that it’s a work in progress.

“It is my suspicion that the domain had been acquired by someone involved in the online gaming community, and parked until such time that it is repurposed,” he said.

At some point, it possibly will be turned into a fully functioning casino site, said Edelstein, noting it’s a practice of online gaming operators to register hundreds of domains with different interfaces.

“They rebrand it under different names so that people think they’re playing on a different platform.”

If cybernb.ca ever is turned into an illegal gaming platform, that could be reported to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, he said, which has the power to shut it down.

A building made of grey and white blocks stands behind a tall sign that says Cyber Centre.
The former home of CyberNB is in Fredericton’s Knowledge Park. The provincial government had ‘no opinion to offer’ on what’s become of the CyberNB website. (Jennifer Sweet/CBC)

Dima Alhadidi is an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Windsor. She also did some checking up on cybernb.ca at the request of CBC News.

Alhadidi did not see any malicious activity either, but found several red flags.

Overall, the site has a low “trust score,” she said, which takes into account things like third-party reviews.

Additionally, several other low-rated sites are on the same server it uses, she said.

Fake area code

Alhadidi and Edelstein both noted the fake area code 555 in the site’s contact phone number and found that the forms to contact the site’s operators or subscribe to their newsletter do not work.

Neither of them was able to determine who the website owner is.

That’s because .ca addresses come with automatic privacy protection if they’re owned by individuals, according to CIRA. If they’re owned by businesses or other groups or institutions, privacy protection can be purchased from the various companies that register website names. This means the names of owners are not listed in public records known as Whois directories.

A young woman with dark hair pulled back in an updo and wearing long dangling hoop earrings smiles at the camera with her head turned slightly off centre.
Dima Alhadidi, assistant professor of computer science at the University of Windsor, says there were many red flags when she analyzed the new version of the cybernb.ca website. (Submitted by Dima Alhadidi)

To Alhadidi, it’s unacceptable to see cybernb.ca co-opted in this way.

“CyberNB was a trusted party and it promoted security and now it’s used for … other goals,” she said.

Rules could be introduced, she suggested, to prevent the resale of domains that were associated with trusted parties.

‘Anybody can grab it’

Edelstein agreed there’s a lesson in the CyberNB experience about the importance of sunset planning.

It’s best practice to maintain your domain registration for up to 10 years after shutting down, he said.

It only costs about $30 a year to do so.

“Five years, $150 bucks, you know that your domain isn’t going to be picked up by a criminal and used for nefarious purposes.” 

“Once anything’s abandoned, anybody can grab it.”

A detail of a webpage titled Cyber NB with a dark background and white text that says, "Cyber Bootcamp prepares you for a great career."
This is part of what you would have seen on the CyberNB website in March 2022. (cybernb.ca)

The provincial government had “no opinion to offer” on what’s become of the CyberNB website.

However, cybersecurity is still a priority sector with high growth potential, said Michel LeBlanc, a spokesperson for Opportunities N.B., in an emailed response to CBC.

In the time since CyberNB shut down, Siemens and Thales announced new cybersecurity operations in Fredericton’s new Cyber Centre building.

About half of space in the building is still available for lease, according to its website.

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