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Famous Four chair pumps $5.4 million into AlpNames to settle COO lawsuit

Kevin Murphy, February 8, 2018, Domain Registrars

Famous Four Media chair Iain Roache has bought out his former COO’s stake in AlpNames, its affiliated registrar, settling a lawsuit between the two men.

He’s acquired Charles Melvin’s 20% stake in the company for £3.9 million ($5.4 million), according to a press release.

A spokesperson confirmed that the deal settles a lawsuit in the companies’ home territory of Gibraltar, which we reported on in December.

Roache said in the press release that he has a plan to grow AlpNames into a “Tier 1 registrar”:

“I’ve got a 10 year strategic plan, which includes significant additional investment, to set the business up for future growth and success,” he said. “We’re going to bring the competition to the incumbents!”

AlpNames is basically the registrar arm of Famous Four, over the last few years supporting the gTLD portfolio registry’s strategy of selling domains in the sub-$1 range and racking up huge market share as a result.

But it’s on a bit of a slide, volume-wise, right now, as hundreds of thousands of junk domains are allowed to expire.

According to today’s press release, AlpNames has 794,000 gTLD domains under management. That’s a far cry from its peak of 3.1 million just under a year ago.

Seller Melvin, according to the press release, “has decided to pursue other interests outside of the domain name industry”.

It appears he left his COO job at Famous Four some time last year, and then sued Roache and CEO Geir Rasmussen (also an AlpNames investor) over a financial matter. Previous attempts to buy him out were rebuffed.

Last October, the Gibraltar court ruled that the defendants has supplied the court with “forged documents” in the form of inaccurately dated invoices between the registry and AlpNames.

The pair insisted to the court that the documents were an honest mistake and their lawyer told DI that there was no “forgery” in the usual sense of the word.

But it appears that Melvin’s split from the companies was less than friendly and the £3.9 million buyout should probably be viewed in that light.

Uniregistry changes emails after “renewal scam” complaints

Kevin Murphy, February 2, 2018, Domain Registrars

Uniregistry has modified its marketing emails after customers complained they looked like fake renewal “scams”.

One customer contacted DI last week to say they were “horrified” to receive pitches for cheap SSL certificates that “read like some of the worst domain expiration scams of the past”.

The company recently started reselling Comodo’s SSL certs as part of its plan to broaden its customer base beyond its roots in the domain investor community.

But the way these certs were marketed left more than one customer with concerns. One email, which I’ve lightly redacted, read as follows:

Dear [CUSTOMER],

FINAL NOTICE – Your SSL certificate for your domain has expired. Take action and renew your certificate today through Uniregistry.

If your SSL certificate expires your website will display a warning informing customers the site is not secure.

We’ve teamed up with Comodo CA to offer our valued customers discounts up to 78% off when they renew their SSL certificate through us.

Visit https://www.comodo.com/uniregistry/ to take advantage of this offer and renew your certificate before it expires.

Domains at Risk :
[LIST OF DOMAINS]

Average validation time is less than an hour could take longer. Don’t let your certificate expire and put your business at risk. We are here to help, contact one of our SSL Specialist for more information or if you need additional support.

Thank you for choosing Uniregistry and Comodo CA

The reader said that while they have some domains with Uniregistry, their SSL certs had been bought elsewhere.

They added that the certs had not “expired” as the email claimed and said that they were not due to expire for months.

In addition, the email is quite clearly asking the customer to “renew” their cert via Uniregistry and Comodo, which should not be possible if the current cert was bought from a different Certificate Authority. It’s actually a solicitation to buy a new cert.

The scare-tactics wording is reminiscent of the old “slamming” scams carried out by Brandon Gray Internet Services, going under the moniker Domain Registry Of America and similar, until ICANN terminated its contract in 2014.

These “fake renewal” scams were delivered in the form of final-demand invoices, but were in fact solicitations to transfer domains, at a huge premium, from their current registrar to the scammer’s registrar.

A major difference between the DROA scam and Uniregistry’s marketing is that Uniregistry only contacted its existing customers. It was not spamming SSL owners at random.

Uniregistry told DI that the emails in question were part of an “A/B test” — when a company tests two emails to different sets of customers to see which one gets the best response rate — that were sent to “small number” of its customers.

Chief operating officer Kanchan Mhatre said in an email:

The initial content sent came from a previous campaign and it’s fair to say that it needed modifying to more accurately reflect what we were trying to convey. Based on the feedback received from you and other customers, we have modified the messaging and we are currently reviewing cert expiry date validation to ensure that we communicate with our customers in a timely manner.

GoDaddy and DomainTools scrap over Whois access

Kevin Murphy, January 12, 2018, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy has seriously limited DomainTools’ access to its customers’ Whois records, pissing off DomainTools.

DomainTools CEO Tim Chen this week complained to DI that its access to Whois has been throttled back significantly in recent months, making it very difficult to keep its massive database of domain information up to date.

Chen said that DomainTools is currently only able to access GoDaddy’s Whois over port 43 at about 2% of the rate it had previously.

He said that this has been going on for about six months and that the market-leading registrar has been unresponsive to its requests to have previous levels restored.

“By throttling access to the data by 98% they’re defeating the ability of security practitioners to get data on GoDaddy domains,” Chen said. “It’s particularly troublesome because they [GoDaddy] are such a big part of DNS.”

“We have customers who say the quality of GoDaddy data is just degrading across the board, either through direct look-ups or in some of the DomainTools products themselves,” he said.

DomainTools customers include security professionals trying to hunt down the source of attacks and intellectual property interests trying to locate pirates and cybersquatters.

GoDaddy today confirmed to DI that it has been throttling DomainTools’ Whois access, and said that it’s part of ongoing anti-spam measures.

In recent years there’s been an increase in the amount of spam — usually related to web design, hosting, and SEO — sent to recent domain registrants using email addresses harvested from new Whois records.

GoDaddy, as the market-share leader in retail domain sales, takes a tonne of flak from customers who, unaware of standard Whois practice, think the company is selling their personal information to spammers.

This kind of Twitter exchange is fairly common on GoDaddy’s feed:

While GoDaddy is not saying that DomainTools is directly responsible for this kind of activity, throttling its port 43 traffic is one way the company is trying to counter the problem, VP of policy James Bladel told DI tonight.

“Companies like [DomainTools] present a challenge,” he said. “While we may know these folks, we don’t know who their customers are.”

But that’s just a part of the issue. GoDaddy was also concerned about the amount of resources DomainTools was consuming, and its own future legal responsibilities under the European Union’s forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation.

“When [Chen] says they’re down to a fraction or a percentage of what they had previously, well what they had previously was they were updating and archiving Whois almost in real time,” Bladel said. “And that’s not going to fly.”

“That is not only, we feel, not congruent with our responsibilities to our customers’ data, but it’s also, later on down the road, exactly the kind of thing that GDPR and other regulations are designed to stop,” he said.

GDPR is the EU law that, when it fully kicks in in May, gives European citizens much more rights over the sharing and processing of their private data.

Bladel added that DomainTools is still getting more Whois access than other parties using port 43.

“They have a level of access that is much, much higher than what they would normally have as a registrar,” he said, “but much lower than I think they want, because they want to effectively download and keep current the entirety of the Whois database.”

I’m not getting a sense from GoDaddy that it’s likely to backtrack on its changes.

Indeed, the company also today announced that it from January 25 it will start to “mask” key elements of Whois records when queried over port 43.

GoDaddy told high-value customers such as domainers today that port 43 queries will no longer return the registrant’s first name, last name, email address or phone number.

Bulk Whois users such as registrars (and, I assume, DomainTools) that have been white-listed via the “GoDaddy Port43 Process” will continue to receive full records.

Its web-based Whois, which includes a CAPTCHA gateway to prevent scraping, will continue to function as normal.

Bladel said that these changes are NOT related to GDPR, nor to the fact that ICANN said a couple months back that it would not enforce compliance with Whois provisions of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, subject to certain conditions.

SpamHaus ranks most-botted TLDs and registrars

Kevin Murphy, January 9, 2018, Domain Registrars

Namecheap and Uniregistry have emerged as two of the most-abused domain name companies, using statistics on botnet command and control centers released by SpamHaus this week.

SpamHaus data shows that over a quarter of all botnet C&Cs found during the year were using NameCheap as their registrar.

It also shows that almost 1% of domains registered in Uniregistry’s .click are used as C&Cs.

The spam-fighting outfit said it discovered “almost 50,000” domains in 2017 that were registered for the purpose of controlling botnets.

Comparable data for 2016 was not published a year ago, but if you go back a few years, SpamHaus reported that there were just 3,793 such domains in 2014.

Neither number includes compromised domains or free subdomains.

The TLD with the most botnet abuse was of course .com, with 14,218 domains used as C&C servers. It was followed by Directi’s .pw (8,587) and Afilias’ .info (3,707).

When taking into account the relative size of the TLDs, SpamHaus fingered Russian ccTLD .ru as the “most heavily abused” TLD, but its numbers don’t ring true to me.

With 1,370 botnet controllers and about five and a half million domains, .ru’s abused domains would be around 0.03%.

But if you look at .click, with 1,256 botnet C&Cs and 131,000 domains (as of September), that number is very close to 1%. When it comes to botnets, that’s a high number.

In fact, using SpamHaus numbers and September registry reports of total domains under management, it seems that .work, .space, .website, .top, .pro, .biz, .info, .xyz, .bid and .online all have higher levels of botnet abuse than .ru, though in absolute numbers some have fewer abused domains.

In terms of registrars, Namecheap was the runaway loser, with a whopping 11,878 domains used to control botnets.

While SpamHaus acknowledges that the size of the registrar has a bearing on abuse levels, it’s worth noting that GoDaddy — by far the biggest registrar, but well-staffed with over-zealous abuse guys — does not even feature on the top 20 list here.

SpamHaus wrote:

While the total numbers of botnet domains at the registrar might appear large, the registrar does not necessarily support cybercriminals. Registrars simply can’t detect all fraudulent registrations or registrations of domains for criminal use before those domains go live. The “life span” of criminal domains on legitimate, well-run, registrars tends to be quite short.

However, other much smaller registrars that you might never have heard of (like Shinjiru or WebNic) appear on this same list. Several of these registrars have an extremely high proportion of cybercrime domains registered through them. Like ISPs with high numbers of botnet controllers, these registrars usually have no or limited abuse staff, poor abuse detection processes, and some either do not or cannot accept takedown requests except by a legal order from the local government or a local court.

The SpamHaus report, which you can read here, concludes with a call for registries and registrars to take more action to shut down repeat offenders, saying it is “embarrassing” that some registrars allow perpetrators to register domains for abuse over and over and over again.

Namecheap to bring millions of domains in-house next week

Kevin Murphy, January 5, 2018, Domain Registrars

Namecheap is finally bringing its customer base over to its own ICANN accreditation.

The registrar will next week accept transfer of an estimated 3.2 million .com and .net domains from Enom, following a court ruling forcing Enom owner Tucows to let go of the names.

The migration will happen from January 8 to January 12, Namecheap said in a blog post today.

Namecheap is one of the largest registrars in the industry, but historically it mostly acted as an Enom reseller. Every domain it sold showed up in official reports as an Enom sale.

While it’s been using its own ICANN accreditation to sell gTLD names since around 2015 — and has around four million names on its own credentials — it still had a substantial portion of its customer base on the Enom ticker.

After the two companies’ arrangement came to an end, and Enom was acquired by Tucows, Namecheap decided to also consolidate its .com/.net names under its own accreditation.

After Tucows balked at a bulk transfer, Namecheap sued, and a court ruled in December that Tucows must consent to the transfer.

Now, Namecheap says all .com and .net names registered before January 2017 or transferred in before November 2017 will be migrated.

There may be some downtime as the transition goes through, the company warned.