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How NCC plans to revolutionize domain name security with .secure gTLD

Kevin Murphy, May 10, 2012, 18:26:54 (UTC), Domain Registries

The proposed .secure generic top-level domain is now officially contested, after NCC Group, best known in the domain industry for its data escrow services, announced a bid.

Newly formed NCC subsidiary Artemis Internet Inc, based in San Francisco, is the official applicant.

According to Artemis chief technology officer Alex Stamos, who co-founded security testing firm iSEC Partners and sold it to NCC for $22.8 million two years ago, this is a hard security play.

The .secure gTLD would be all about enforcing strict security policies on registrants, he said.

“Right now there are a lot of interesting security technologies out there, but they’re generally not very effective because they’re optional,” he said.

As well as premium pricing and a manual registrant verification process expected to take about two weeks – complete with mailing address confirmation and two-factor authentication tokens – Artemis plans to force registrants to adhere to certain baseline security policies.

For example, all .secure web sites would have to be completely HTTPS, Stamos said. The only permissible use of a standard port 80 URL would be to redirect to the encrypted site.

The same would go for mail servers – they’d all have to use TLS to encrypt email as standard.

“When you go to bank.secure you’ll know that the software and servers at the other end are going to make the most secure decisions possible,” Stamos said.

Artemis would scan its registrants’ sites for compliance with these baseline rules, looking out for things such as botched SSL implementations.

But Artmeis wants to take it a step further. It is also proposing a new protocol, Domain Policy Framework, which would let registrants publish their security policies in the DNS.

Stamos said the company has set up a Domain Policy Working Group to develop the spec, which it plans to submit to the IETF for standardization before the end of the year.

The other members of the working group, which promise to include some “influential” names in financial services, software and social media, will be announced in July.

DPF would work alongside the existing DNSSEC and DANE protocols to enable registrants to specify, for example, which Certificate Authorities browsers should trust when accessing their .secure domain, preventing certain types of attacks, Stamos said.

Obviously, this system is not going to work without support from browser software, but Stamos said he’s hopeful that the big vendors will embrace the DPF spec.

“The most innovative and forward-leaning browsers will support it first,” he said.

Domains in .secure would still be accessible by non-compliant browsers, he said.

ARI Registry Services has been hired to manage the back-end registry, but Artemis is also building a secondary registry system for storing the DPF records, which it plans to offer to other TLD registries.

NCC plans to invest up to £6 million ($9.7 million) in Artmeis over the next 15 months, according to a press release.

Another firm, Domain Security Company, also plans to apply for .secure.

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