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Emoji domains get a 👎 from security panel

Kevin Murphy, May 30, 2017, Domain Tech

The use of emojis in domain names has been discouraged by ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee.

In a paper late last week, SSAC told ICANN that emojis — aka emoticons or smileys — lack standardization, are barred by the relevant domain name technical standards, and could cause user confusion.

Emoji domains, while technically possible, are not particularly prevalent on the internet right now.

They’re implicitly banned in gTLDs due to the contractual requirement to adhere to the IDNA2008 standard, which restricts internationalized domain names to actual spoken human languages, and the only ccTLD I’m aware of actively marketing the names is Samoa’s .ws.

There was a notable example of Coca Cola registering 😀.ws (xn--h28h.ws) for a billboard marketing campaign in Puerto Rico a couple of years ago, but that name has since expired and been registered by an Australian photographer.

The SSAC said that emoji use should be banned in TLDs and discouraged at the second level for several reasons.

Mainly, the problem is that while emojis are described in the Unicode standards, there’s no standardization across devices and applications as to how they are displayed.

A certain degree of creative flair is permitted, meaning a smiling face in one app may look unlike the technically same emoji in another app. On smaller screens and with smaller fonts, technically different emojis may look alike.

This could lead to confusion, which could lead to security problems, SSAC warns:

It is generally difficult for people to figure out how to specify exactly what happy face they are trying to produce, and different systems represent the same emoji with different code points. The shape and color of emoji can change while a user is viewing them, and the user has no way of knowing whether what they are seeing is what the sender intended. As a result, the user is less likely to reach the intended resource and may instead be tricked by a phishing site or other intentional misrepresentation.

SSAC added that it:

strongly discourages the registration of any domain name that includes emoji in any of its labels. The SSAC also advises registrants of domain names with emoji that such domains may not function consistently or may not be universally accessible as expected

The brief paper can be read here (pdf).

Want to be one of the internet’s SEVEN SECRET KEY-HOLDERS? Apply now!

Kevin Murphy, May 22, 2017, Domain Tech

ICANN has put out a call for volunteers, looking for people to become what are sometimes referred to as “the internet’s seven secret key holders”.

Specifically, it needs Trusted Community Representatives, people of standing in the internet community who don’t mind carrying around a small key and getting a free trip to Los Angeles or Virginia once or twice a year.

The TCRs are used in the paranoia-inducing cryptographic key-signing ceremonies that provide DNSSEC at the root of the domain name system.

The ceremonies take place at ICANN data centers four times a year. The ceremonies themselves take hours, involve multiple layers of physical and data security, and the volunteers are expected to hang around for a day or two before and after each.

There’s no compensation involved, but the TCRs are allowed to apply to ICANN for travel reimbursements.

ICANN expects TCRs to stick around for about five years, but the large majority of the 28 people who act as TCRs (yeah, it’s not seven, it’s 28) have been in the role since 2010 and ICANN is probably planning a cull.

Other than knowing what the DNS is and how it works, the primary requirements are “integrity, objectivity, and intelligence, with reputations for sound judgment and open minds”.

If you think you tick those boxes, head here to apply.

Massive ransomware attack hits 150 countries, brought down by a domain reg

Kevin Murphy, May 15, 2017, Domain Tech

A massive outbreak of malware on Friday hit thousands of organizations in an estimated 150 countries and had a big impact on the UK National Health Service before being temporarily thwarted by a single domain name registration.

WannaCry, as the malware has been called, targets Windows boxes that have not installed a March security patch. It encrypts files on the hosts it infects and demands money for the decryption key.

The attack is Big News for several reasons.

First, it spread ransomware over the network using a remotely exploitable vulnerability that required no user error or social engineering to install itself.

Second, it hit an estimated quarter-million machines, including thousands at big organizations such as Telefonica, the NHS, Deutsche Bahn and FedEx.

Third, it posed a real risk to human life. A reported 70,000 NHS machines, including medical devices, were said to be infected. Reportedly, some non-critical patients had to be turned away from UK hospitals and operations were cancelled due to the inability of doctors to access medical records.

Fourth, WannaCry appears to have been based on code developed by the US National Security Agency and leaked last month.

All in all, it was an attack the scale of which we have not seen for many years.

But it seems to have been “accidentally” prevented from propagating further on Friday, at least temporarily, with the simple act of registering a domain name.

A young British security researcher who goes by the online handle MalwareTech said he was poring over the WannaCry code on Friday afternoon when he came across an unregistered domain name.

On the assumption that the malware author perhaps planned to use the domain as a command and control center, MalwareTech spent the ten bucks to register it.

MalwareTech discovered that after the domain was registered, the malware stopped encrypting the hard drives it infected.

He first thought it was a fail-safe or kill-switch, but he later came to the conclusion that the author had included the domain lookup as a way to thwart security researchers such as himself, who run malware code in protected sandbox environments.

MalwareTech wrote:

In certain sandbox environments traffic is intercepted by replying to all URL lookups with an IP address belonging to the sandbox rather than the real IP address the URL points to, a side effect of this is if an unregistered domain is queried it will respond as [if] it were registered

Once the domain was registered, WannaCry iterations on newly infected machines assume they were running in sandboxes and turned themselves off before causing additional damage.

MalwareTech was naturally enough proclaimed the hero of the day by many news outlets, but it appears that versions of the malware without the DNS query kill-switch already started circulating over the weekend.

Many are warning that the start of the work week today may see a new rash of infections.

The researcher’s account of the incident can be read in full here.

ICANN to host DNS event in Madrid

Kevin Murphy, February 6, 2017, Domain Tech

ICANN is to hold a “DNS Symposium” in Madrid this May.

The event will “explore ICANN’s current initiatives and projects relating to DNS research, operations, threats and countermeasures and technology evolution”, according to ICANN.

It’s a one-day event, focused specifically on DNS, rather than the domain name registration business.

The Symposium immediately follows the GDD Summit, the annual ICANN industry-focused intersessional event designed for registrars, registries and the like.

The Summit runs from May 9 to 11 and the Symposium is on May 13.

Both events will be held at the Hotel NH Collection Madrid Eurobuilding in Madrid and will be webcast.

ICANN is currently looking for corporate sponsors for the Symposium.

Security experts say ICANN should address collisions before approving more new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 2, 2017, Domain Tech

ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee has told ICANN it needs to do more to address the problem of name collisions before it approves any more new gTLDs.

In its latest advisory (pdf), published just before Christmas, SSAC says ICANN is not doing enough to coordinate with other technical bodies that are asserting authority over “special use” TlDs.

The SAC090 paper appears to be an attempt to get ICANN to further formalize its relationship with the Internet Engineering Task Force as it pertains to reserved TLDs:

The SSAC recommends that the ICANN Board of Directors take appropriate steps to establish definitive and unambiguous criteria for determining whether or not a syntactically valid domain name label could be a top-level domain name in the global DNS.

Pursuant to its finding that lack of adequate coordination among the activities of different groups contributes to domain namespace instability, the SSAC recommends that the ICANN Board of Directors establish effective means of collaboration on these issues with relevant groups outside of ICANN, including the IETF.

The paper speaks to at least two ongoing debates.

First, should ICANN approve .home and .corp?

These two would-be gTLDs were applied for by multiple parties in 2012 but have been on hold since August 2013 following an independent report into name collisions.

Names collisions are generally cases in which ICANN delegates a TLD to the public DNS that is already broadly used on private networks. This clash can result in the leakage of private data.

.home and .corp are by a considerable margin the two strings most likely to be affected by this problem, with .mail also seeing substantial volume.

But in recent months .home and .corp applicants have started to put pressure on ICANN to resolve the issue and release their applications from limbo.

The second incident the SSAC paper speaks to is the reservation in 2015 of .onion

If you’re using a browser on the privacy-enhancing Tor network, .onion domains appear to you to work exactly the same as domains in any other gTLDs, but under the hood they don’t use the public ICANN-overseen DNS.

The IETF gave .onion status as a “Special Use Domain“, in order to prevent future collisions, which caused ICANN to give it the same restricted status as .example, .localhost and .test.

But there was quite a lot of hand-wringing within the IETF before this status was granted, with some worrying that the organization was stepping on ICANN’s authority.

The SSAC paper appears to be designed at least partially to encourage ICANN to figure out how much it should take its lead from the IETF in this respect. It asks:

The IETF is an example of a group outside of ICANN that maintains a list of “special use” names. What should ICANN’s response be to groups outside of ICANN that assert standing for their list of special names?

For members of the new gTLD industry, the SSAC paper may be of particular importance because it raises the possibility of delays to subsequent rounds of the program if ICANN does not spell out more formally how it handles special use TLDs.

“The SSAC recommends that ICANN complete this work before making any decision to add new TLD names to the global DNS,” it says.