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Up to 20 million people could get broken internet in domain security rollover

Kevin Murphy, November 9, 2017, Domain Tech

Twenty million people losing access to parts of the internet is considered an acceptable level of collateral damage for ICANN’s forthcoming DNS root security update.

That’s one of a number of facts and figures to emerge from recent updates from the organization, explaining its decision to delay the so-called “KSK rollover” from October 11 to some time in the first quarter next year.

The rollover will see a new Key Signing Key, used as the trust anchor for all DNSSEC-signed domains, replace the seven-year-old original.

DNSSEC protects internet users and registrants from domain-based man-in-the-middle attacks. It’s considered good practice to roll keys at each level of the DNS hierarchy periodically, to reduce the risk of successful brute-force attacks.

The root KSK update will affect hundreds of millions of people who currently use DNSSEC-compatible resolvers, such as Google DNS.

ICANN delayed the rollover after it, rather fortuitously, spotted that not all of these resolvers are configured to correctly handle the change.

The number of known incompatible servers is quite small — only about 500 of the 11,982 DNSSEC-using recursive servers initially surveyed (pdf). That represents only a very small minority of the world’s internet users, as most are not currently using DNSSEC.

Subsequent ICANN research, presented by principal researcher Roy Arends at ICANN 60 last week, showed that:

  • There are currently about 4.2 million DNS resolvers in the world.
  • Of those, 27,084 are configured to tell the root servers which KSKs they support (currently either the KSK-2011 or KSK-2017).
  • Of those, 1,631 or 6.02% do not support KSK-2017

It was only possible to survey servers that have turned on a recent update to DNS software such as BIND and Unbound, so the true number of misconfigured servers could be much higher.

Matt Larson, ICANN’s VP of research, told DI that ICANN has identified 176 organizations in 41 countries that are currently not prepared to handle the new KSK. These organizations are fairly evenly spread geographically, he said.

Since making the decision to delay the rollover, ICANN has hired a contractor to reach out to these network operators to alert them to potential problems.

ICANN’s CEO Goran Marby has also been writing to telecommunications regulators in all countries to ask for assistance.

After the rollover, people using an incompatible resolver would be unable to access DNSSEC-signed domains. Again, that’s still quite a small minority of domains — there are only about 750,000 in .com by some accounts and apparently none of the top 25 site support it.

ICANN could roll back the change if it detects that a sufficiently large number of people are negatively affected, but that number turns out to be around 20 million.

According to its published rollover plan:

Rollback of any step in the key roll process should be initiated if the measurement program indicated that a minimum of 0.5% of the estimated Internet end-user population has been negatively impacted by the change 72 hours after each change has been deployed into the root zone.

According to InternetWorldStats, there were around 3,885,567,619 internet users in the world this June. It’s very likely more people now.

So a 0.5% threshold works out to about 19 million to 20 million people worldwide.

Larson agreed that in absolute terms, it’s a big number.

“The overall message to take away from that number, I suggest, is that a problem would have to be pretty serious for us to consider rolling back,” Larson, who was not on the team that came up with the threshold, said.

“I think that’s a reasonable position considering that, in the immediate aftermath of the rollover, there are two near-immediate fixes available to any operator experiencing problems: update their systems’ trust anchors with the new key or (less desirable from my perspective but still effective) simply disable DNSSEC validation,” he said.

He added that the 0.5% level is not a hard and fast rule, and that ICANN could be flexible in the moment.

“For example, if when we roll the key, we find out there’s some critical system with a literal life or death impact that is negatively affected by the KSK roll, I think I can pretty confidently state that we wouldn’t require the 0.5% of Internet user threshold to be met before rolling back if it looked like there would be a significant health and safety risk not easily mitigated,” he said.

The chances of such an impact are very slim, but not impossible, he suggested.

It’s not ICANN’s intention to put anyone’s internet access at risk, of course, which is why there’s a delay.

ICANN’s plan calls for any rollover to happen on the eleventh day of a given calendar quarter, so the soonest it could happen would be January 11.

Given the complexity of the outreach task in hand, the relative lack of data, and the holiday periods approaching in many countries, and ICANN’s generally cautious nature, I’d hazard a guess we might be looking at April 11 at the earliest instead.

Verisign and Afilias testing Whois killer

Kevin Murphy, October 25, 2017, Domain Tech

Verisign and Afilias have become the first two gTLD registries to start publicly testing a replacement for Whois.

Both companies have this week started piloting implementations of RDAP, the Registration Data Access Protocol, which is expected to usurp the decades-old Whois protocol before long.

Both pilots are in their very early stages and designed for a technical audience, so don’t expect your socks to be blown off.

The Verisign pilot offers a web-based, URL-based or command-line interface for querying registration records.

The output, by design, is in JSON format. This makes it easier for software to parse but it’s not currently very easy on the human eye.

To make it slightly more legible, you can install a JSON formatter browser extension, which are freely available for Chrome.

Afilias’ pilot is similar but does not currently have a friendly web interface.

Both pilots have rudimentary support for searching using wildcards, albeit with truncated result sets.

The two new pilots only currently cover Verisign’s .com and .net registries and Afilias’ .info.

While two other companies have notified ICANN that they intend to run RDAP pilots, these are the first two to go live.

It’s pretty much inevitable at this point that RDAP is going to replace Whois relatively soon.

Not only has ICANN has been practically champing at the bit to get RDAP compliance into its registry/registrar contracts, but it seems like the protocol could simplify the process of complying with incoming European Union privacy legislation.

RDAP helps standardize access control, meaning certain data fields might be restricted to certain classes of user. Cops and IP enforcers could get access to more Whois data than the average blogger or domainer, in other words.

As it happens, it’s highly possible that this kind of stratified Whois is something that will be legally mandated by the EU General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into effect next May.

Telco billed $2.7 million for failing to renew domain

Kevin Murphy, October 2, 2017, Domain Tech

A US telecommunications provider has agreed to pay $2.7 million after an emergency service went offline because it forgot to renew a domain name.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, Utah-based Sorenson Communications saw its “video relay service” go offline for two days in June 2016 after a domain was not renewed.

The service is basically a 911 emergency calls replaced designed for people with hearing or speech problems.

The settlement (pdf) describes the scenario like this:

Sorenson.com is a domain name Sorenson uses to provide access to SVRS. On the morning of June 6, 2016, Sorenson experienced a VRS Service Interruption that resulted from a preventable, internal operational failure.10 This failure led the domain registration for Sorenson.com to expire and be deactivated. After the deactivation occurred and before Sorenson could correct the situation, some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) updated their records to reflect that the domain was expired. If a user’s ISP updated its records while the domain was shown as expired, that user could not make or receive calls routed through Sorenson.com — including VRS, 911, Dial-Around, and Point-to-Point calls — during at least part of the outage.

Upon discovery of the VRS Service Interruption, Sorenson took immediate steps to correct the problem and notify callers. Once the domain name was reactivated, each caller’s ISP had to take certain steps to ensure that calls were routed through Sorenson.com. To expedite this process, Sorenson reached out to multiple large ISPs, such as Verizon and Comcast, and posted information about the VRS Service Interruption on its website11 and social media outlets. The VRS Service Interruption continued for some callers through the morning of June 8, 2016.

The $2.7 million charge is a repayment of a reimbursement of the same amount paid out by the nation Telecommunications Relay Service Fund.

Sorenson has agreed to pay a more modest $252,000 in formal penalties to the FCC for its indiscretion.

Still, as domain renewal fumbles go, it’s got to be one of the biggest facepalms we’ve seen for a while.

New gTLDs still a crappy choice for email — study

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2017, Domain Tech

New gTLDs may not be the best choice of domain for a primary email address, judging by new research.

Over 20% of the most-popular web sites do not fully understand email addresses containing long TLDs, and Arabic email addresses are supported by fewer than one in 10 sites, a study by the Universal Acceptance Steering Group has found.

Twitter, IBM and the Financial Times are among those sites highlighted as having only partial support for today’s wide variety of possible email addresses.

Only 7% of the sites tested were able to support all types of email address.

The study, carried out by Donuts and ICANN staff, looked at 749 websites (in the top 1,000 or so as ranked by Alexa) that have forms for filling in email addresses.

On each site, seven different email addresses were input, to see whether the site would accept them as valid.

The emails used different combinations of ASCII and Unicode before the dot and mixes of internationalized domain name and ASCII at the second and top levels.

These were the results (click to enlarge or download the PDF of the report here):

IDN emails

The problem with these numbers, it seems to me, is the lack of a control. There’s no real baseline to judge the numbers against.

There’s no mention in the paper about testing addresses that use .com or decades-old ccTLDs, which would have highlighted web sites that with broken scripts that reject all emails.

But if we assume, as the paper appears to, that all the tested web sites were 100% compliant for .com domains, the scores for new gTLDs are not great.

There are currently over 800 TLDs over four characters in length, but according to the UASG research 22% of web sites will not recognize them.

There are 150 IDN TLDs, but a maximum of 30% of sites will accept them in email addresses.

When it comes to right-to-left scripts, such as Arabic, the vast majority of sites are totally hopeless.

UASG dug into the code of the tested sites when it could and found that most of them use client-side code — JavaScript processing a regular expression — to verify addresses.

A regular expression is complex bit of code that can look something like this: /^.+@(?:[^.]+\.)+(?:[^.]{2,})$

It’s not every coder’s cup of tea, but it can get the job done with minimal client-side resource overheads. Most coders, the UASG concludes, copy regex they found on a forum and maybe tweak it a bit.

This should not be shocking news to anyone. I’ve known about it since 2009 or earlier when I first started ripping code from StackOverflow.

However, the UASG seems to be have been working on the assumption that more sites are using off-the-shelf software libraries, which would have allowed the problem to be fixed in a more centralized fashion.

It concludes in its paper that much greater “awareness raising” needs to happen before universal acceptance comes closer to reality.

ICANN just came thiiis close to breaking the internet

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2017, Domain Tech

ICANN has decided to postpone an unprecedented change at the DNS root after discovering it could break internet for potentially millions of users.

The so-called KSK Rollover was due to go ahead on October 11, but it’s now been pushed back to — tentatively — some time in the first quarter 2018.

The delay was decided after ICANN realized that there were still plenty of ISPs and network operators that weren’t ready for the change.

Had ICANN gone ahead anyway with the change anyway, it could have seen subscribers of affected ISPs lose access to millions of DNSSEC-supporting domain names.

So the postponement is a good thing.

A KSK or Key Signing Key is a public-private cryptographic key pair used to sign other keys called Zone Signing Keys. The root KSK signs the root ZSK and is in effect the apex of the DNSSEC hierarchy.

The same KSK has been in operation at the root since 2010, when the root was first signed, but it’s considered good practice to change it every so often to mitigate the risk of brute-force attacks against the public key.

While it’s important enough to get dramatized in US spy shows, in practice it only affects ISPs and domain names that voluntarily support DNSSEC.

ICANN estimates that 750 million people use DNSSEC, which is designed to prevent problems such as man-in-the-middle attacks against domain names.

That’s a hell of a lot of people, but it’s still a minority of the world’s internet-using population. It’s not been revealed how many of those would have been affected by a premature rollover.

When DNSSEC fails, people whose DNS resolvers have DNSSEC turned on (Comcast and Google are two of the largest such providers) can’t access domain names that have DNSSEC turned on (such as domainincite.com).

Preventing the internet breaking is pretty much ICANN’s only job, so it first flagged up its intention to roll the root KSK back in July last year.

In July this year, the new public KSK was uploaded as part of a transition phase that is seeing the 2010 keys and 2017 keys online simultaneously.

Last year, CTO David Conrad told us the long lead time and cautious approach was necessary to get the word out that ISPs needed to test their resolvers to make sure they would work with the new keys.

In June, ICANN CEO Goran Marby spammed the telecommunications regulators in every country in the world with a letter (pdf) asking them to coordinate their home ISPs to be ready for the change.

The organization’s comms teams has also been doing a pretty good job getting word of the rollover into the tech press over the last few months.

But, with a flashback to the new gTLD program, that outreach doesn’t seem to have reached out as far as it needed to.

ICANN said last night that a “significant number” of ISPs are still not ready for the rollover.

It seems ICANN only became aware of this problem due to a new feature of DNS that reports back to the root which keys it is configured to use.

Without being able to collate that data, it’s possible it could have been assumed that the situation was hunky-dory and the rollover might have gone ahead.

ICANN still isn’t sure why so many resolvers are not yet ready for the 2017 KSK. It said in a statement:

There may be multiple reasons why operators do not have the new key installed in their systems: some may not have their resolver software properly configured and a recently discovered issue in one widely used resolver program appears to not be automatically updating the key as it should, for reasons that are still being explored.

It’s not clear why the broken resolver software has not been named — one would assume that getting the word out would be a priority unless issues of responsible disclosure were in play.

ICANN said it is “reaching out to its community, including its Security and Stability Advisory Committee, the Regional Internet Registries, Network Operator Groups and others to help explore and resolve the issues.”

The organization is hopeful that it will be able to go ahead with the rollover in Q1 2018, but noted that would be dependent on “more fully understanding the new information and mitigating as many potential failures as possible.”

While it’s excellent news that ICANN is on top of the situation, the delay is unlikely to do anything to help the perception that DNSSEC is mainly just an administrative ball-ache and far more trouble than it’s worth.