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VeriSign poised to sell SSL business to Symantec

Reliable news sources including the Wall Street Journal and Reuters are reporting that VeriSign is on the verge of offloading its market-leading SSL certificate business to Symantec for over $1 billion.

The sale would be the latest in a series of spin-offs that started in 2007, highlighting the company’s renewed focus on domain names.

VeriSign spent many years acquiring a bunch of companies in tenuously related markets – deals that never really made any sense to me – and the last few years selling them off again.

But SSL is not really in the same category as VeriSign’s bizarre forays into, for example, the Crazy Frog ringtone company. It’s the business the company was founded on when it was spun out of RSA Security 15 years ago.

It’s called VeriSign for a reason.

But offloading the SSL business would make sense. One of the reasons VeriSign bought Network Solutions ten years ago was the obvious retail synergies between domain names and SSL certificates – customers could buy both at the same time.

That synergy was diluted when VeriSign spun the NSI registrar business out as a separate company three years later, creating the vertically separated domain name market we know today.

Symantec, with its fingers in the enterprise and home/small business pies, might be able to make a better crack at the SSL game.

So is this bad news for SSL’s current silver medal holder, Go Daddy?

Possibly. Symantec is a force to be reckoned with – only marketing prowess could explain why so many people use Norton.

Of course, these news stories could be nonsense.

But my guts say they’re probably based on the same kind of leaks that companies often float to the press, to see what the markets do, when they’re in the final stages of negotiations.

Porn domain firm urges ICANN to ignore the haters

ICM Registry has asked ICANN to set aside the views of thousands of naysayers and approve the porn-only .xxx top-level domain as soon as possible.

The company has sent three documents to ICANN today, two of which set out ICM’s position in the same firm tone that has characterized its previous missives.

Basically: no more delays, your only option here is to get back into contract talks now.

I would say ICM is drawing a line in the sand, but ICM has drawn so many lines in the sand recently it’s beginning to look like a game of beach tic-tac-toe (which, visualizing it, is kinda appropriate).

The third document is a post-game summary of ICANN’s recently closed comment period on the .xxx application, which attracted record comments. That’s written by former ICANN public participation wonk Kieren McCarthy and is more measured in tone.

ICM president Stuart Lawley believes that the thousands of copy-paste comments from US-based anti-porn Christian groups can be safely ignored. I get the impression ICANN will probably agree.

The volume of comments on an entirely irrelevant issue – that is, the content of websites on the Internet – was one of the original reasons this process went off the rails. ICANN should not repeat its earlier mistakes and pander to those interests.

Given that a substantial number of comments came from the porn industry itself, notably the Free Speech Coalition, Lawley wrote that “debate about community support is no longer appropriate”.

ICM’s on shakier ground here than with the Christians. A TLD for a sponsored community that is unequivocally hated (NSFW) by a vocal part of that community can’t look good.

But the FSC, along with the Adult Entertainment Broadcast Network, one of its members, “represent only a small fraction of the adult industry”, Lawley claimed.

Over 100,000 .xxx domains have been pre-registered over the last five years and several hundred of these people sent ICM’s copy-paste letter to ICANN. ICM says this indicates adult industry support, though I think that’s a less than watertight argument.

ICANN’s board will undoubtedly have a good old chinwag about their current predicament at their retreat this weekend, but they’re not due to make any decisions until the Brussels meeting a little over a month from now.

.jobs seeks comment on dictionary domains

The sponsor organization behind the restricted .jobs domain is soliciting comment on a plan to substantially liberalize the TLD, allowing generic and two-letter registrations.

The Society For Human Resource Management has published a very brief survey, asking HR folk what they think the pros and cons to the plan might be.

The .jobs domain is run by Employ Media. It’s currently restricted to companyname.jobs registrations, and as such has been predictably unsuccessful.

Now Employ Media wants to branch out into geographical and generic domains. As I reported last month, it looks like it’s trying to remove essentially all of its significant registration restrictions.

The attempt at a policy shift follows a deal made with DirectEmployers Association to monetize geographic domains that raised eyebrows at ICANN late last year.

ERE.net has more here.

German domains see severe downtime

Many domains ending in .de, Germany’s country-code TLD, have seen downtime today, after something went wrong at Denic, the registry manager.

Details are sketchy at the moment, but it appears from chatter on the DNS-Ops mailing list that several instances of the .de zone stopped serving addresses this morning.

It appears that the affected servers were responsible for .de domains beginning with F through Z, so facebook.de would have worked, but heise.de would not.

The German slice of Twitter has been going a bit nuts with comments, and the German press is already on the case.

This is obviously a huge headache if you’re German or do business in Germany — I hate to think how many transactions could have been disrupted by the downtime — and I expect Denic will take a lot of flack at home over the coming days and weeks.

The problem, however, does appear to have been fixed. SANS estimates the outage as a little over an hour.

Porn trade group director says .xxx could be a gTLD

One of the directors of porn industry organization the Free Speech Coalition has suggested the .xxx top-level domain could be approved as an unrestricted gTLD.

Tom Hymes, who sits on the Free Speech Coalition’s board of directors, wrote to ICANN urging it first and foremost to kill ICM Registry’s .xxx application once and for all.

But Hymes went on to say: “If that scenario is unacceptable to the Board for one reason or another, I would then encourage it to explore a gTLD option for ICM.”

He noted that he was writing in a personal capacity, not as a representative of the FSC.

ICM’s application was filed under the 2005 round of “sponsored” TLDs, which meant it had to show backing from a sponsorship organization and some measure of ownership restriction.

For example, the Society for Human Resource Management is the sponsor for .jobs and the Universal Postal Union backed .post.

ICM, which has never been part of the adult entertainment industry, created a policy-making body called the International Foundation For Online Responsibility, IFFOR, to act as its sponsor.

In my view, IFFOR was basically a crude hack to get around the fact that in 2005 ICANN was not looking for any new gTLDs.

The FSC doesn’t like IFFOR, because a) it will make policy on what can be hosted under .xxx domains and b) the adult industry will not control its board or see any of its money.

Hymes, in his personal capacity, seems to be saying that an unrestricted .xxx gTLD would be okay. It’s the first ground I’ve seen anyone in the porn industry give in this debate. He says:

To its credit, the Board is striving to solve the dot xxx imbroglio by dangling a gTLD in front of ICM, a solution ICM thus far has refused to consider. But that sort of suspicious recalcitrance can no longer be tolerated. Instead of threatening to bring a costly lawsuit against ICANN in order to secure control of a policy making regime for which it does not have the required support, ICM should cut its losses, save everyone a lot of money and take the gTLD while it has the opportunity.

I happen to agree, mostly: .xxx would make a heck of a lot more sense, and would be a whole lot less controversial (Christians notwithstanding), as a gTLD.

Unfortunately, I can’t see it happening. Not easily, anyway.

There’s no ICANN process in place for approving gTLDs today, and if ICANN were to choose to kick ICM into the next new gTLD round, there’s a pretty good chance that ICM would find itself fighting a contested string battle with other applications.

From a process point of view, sponsored TLDs are a failed experiment.