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Pilot program for Whois killer launches

Kevin Murphy, September 7, 2017, Domain Tech

ICANN is to oversee a set of pilot programs for RDAP, the protocol expected to eventually replace Whois.

Registration Data Access Protocol, an IETF standard since 2015, fills the same function as Whois, but it is more structured and enables access control rules.

ICANN said this week that it has launched the pilot in response to a request last month from the Registries Stakeholder Group and Registrars Stakeholder Group. It said on its web site:

The goal of this pilot program is to develop a baseline profile (or profiles) to guide implementation, establish an implementation target date, and develop a plan for the implementation of a production RDAP service.

Participation will be voluntary by registries and registrars. It appears that ICANN is merely coordinating the program, which will see registrars and registrars offer their own individual pilots.

So far, no registries or registrars have notified ICANN of their own pilots, but the program is just a few days old.

It is expected that the pilots will allow registrars and registries to experiment with different types of profiles (how the data is presented) and extensions before ICANN settles on a standard, contractually enforced format.

Under RDAP, ICANN/IANA acts as a “bootstrapping” service, maintaining a list of RDAP servers and making it easier to discover which entity is authoritative for which domain name.

RDAP is basically Whois, but it’s based on HTTP/S and JSON, making it easier to for software to parse and easier to compare records between TLDs and registrars.

It also allows non-Latin scripts to be more easily used, allowing internationalized registration data.

Perhaps most controversially, it is also expected to allow differentiated access control.

This means in future, depending on what policies the ICANN community puts in place, millions of current Whois users could find themselves with access to fewer data elements than they do today.

The ICANN pilot will run until July 31, 2018.

About that $3,800 emoji domain sale…

Kevin Murphy, June 5, 2017, Domain Tech

The debate over the age of the emoji domain name ☮.com may have been settled. It probably is as old as it was claimed to be.

You may recall that last week I blogged about the €3,400 ($3,816) sale of the domain to an end user. It wasn’t a big sale or a big story, but it’s so rare to see an emoji name sell I thought it was worth a few paragraphs.

It had been claimed, and I reported, that the name was 16 years old, having been registered in April 2001.

Later that day, ICANN principle technologist Paul Hoffman, who was co-author of the IDNA2003 standard that governed how non-ASCII domains were represented in the DNS, questioned whether the name could possibly be that old.

Under IDNA2003, IDNs are encoded with the “xn--” prefix. While applications may render ☮.com as the “peace” symbol, in the DNS it is in fact xn--v4h.com.

Hoffman told me that the prefix had been picked more or less at random in March 2003, so there was no way a speculator could have known in April 2001 how to register a domain that would have no meaning for another two years.

In addition, the Punycode standard that converts non-Latin characters to ASCII was not finalized until 2003 either.

It seemed more likely that the creation date in the Whois record was incorrect, so I updated the original blog post with the new information.

That kicked off a bit of a debate in the comments about scenarios in which the creation date was correct. Some commenters wondered whether the original buyer had registered many domains with different prefixes with the hope of getting lucky.

What none of us considered was that the domain itself changed between 2001 and 2003. Given new information Hoffman supplied over the weekend, that now strikes me as the most plausible scenario.

What most of us had forgotten was that Verisign launched an IDN registration test-bed all the way back in December 2000 (archive.org link).

That roll-out, controversial at the time, encoded the domains with Punycode predecessor RACE and used the bq– prefix.

However, after the IDNA2003 and Punycode standards were published in 2003, Verisign then converted all of the existing IDN .com domains over to the two new standards. Names beginning bq– were changed to xn--, and the encoding of the subsequent characters was changed.

So ☮.com very probably was registered in 2001, but in ASCII it was a completely different domain name back then.

We seem to have a rare(ish) case here of the creation date in the Whois being “right” but the domain name itself being “wrong”.

There may be as many as half a million .com domains with similar issues in their Whois.

I hope this clears up any confusion.

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.

Ship explosion takes ICANN gear out of action

Kevin Murphy, October 3, 2016, Domain Tech

An explosion and fire aboard a cargo ship has caused hardware destined for the ICANN’s upcoming meeting in Hyderabad to be impounded.

A welding accident caused the explosion aboard the mega container vessel as it was docked in Hamburg, on September 1 according to reports.

The resulting fire took four days for firefighters to put out, according to ICANN.

ICANN had two containers — a 40-footer and 20-footer — on the ship, moving gear from June’s Helsinki meeting to next month’s ICANN 57 in India, ICANN said.

The smaller of the two containers was close to the fire and has been “detained” in Germany where it may not be released for months or years.

It held “printers, remote participation computers, camera kits, digital signage equipment, and all network hardware and wireless equipment, including over 5 miles (8 km) of cabling”, ICANN said in a blog post.

While replacements have been secured for much of the equipment — likely at a cost of many thousands of dollars — some of the gear cannot be replaced in time for Hyderabad.

The main impact of this will be that remote meeting hubs will not be able to broadcast live into the Hyderabad venue, according to ICANN.

On-site participants may also experience slower than expected downloads due to the unavailability of the Akamai content delivery network servers the meetings usually use.

ICANN ships about 100 tonnes of kit to each of its meetings.

ICANN 57 will run from November 3 to November 9 at the International Convention Centre.

Are .mail, .home and .corp safe to launch? Applicants think so

Kevin Murphy, August 28, 2016, Domain Tech

ICANN should lift the freeze on new gTLDs .mail, .home and .corp, despite fears they could cause widespread disruption, according to applicants.

Fifteen applicants for the strings wrote to ICANN last week to ask for a risk mitigation plan that would allow them to be delegated.

The three would-be gTLDs were put on hold indefinitely almost three years ago, after studies determined that they were at risk of causing far more “name collision” problems than other strings.

If they were to start resolving on the internet, the fear is they would lead to problems ranging from data leakage to systems simply stopping working properly.

Name collisions are something all new TLDs run the risk of creating, but .home, .corp and .mail are believed to be particularly risky due to the sheer number of private networks that use them as internal namespaces.

My own ISP, which has millions of subscribers, uses .home on its home hub devices, for example. Many companies use .corp and .mail on their LANs, due to longstanding advice from Microsoft and the IETF that it was safe to do so.

A 2013 study (pdf) showed that .home received almost 880 million DNS queries over a 48-hour period, while .corp received over 110 million.

That was vastly more than other non-existent TLDs.

For example, .prod (which some organizations use to mean “production”) got just 5.3 million queries over the same period, and when Google got .prod delegated two years it prompted an angry backlash from inconvenienced admins.

While .mail wasn’t quite on the same scale as the other two, third-party studies determined that it posed similar risks to .home and .corp.

All three were put on hold indefinitely. ICANN said it would ask the IETF to consider making them officially reserved strings.

Now the applicants, noting the lack of IETF movement to formally freeze the strings, want ICANN to work on a thawing plan.

“Rather than continued inaction, ICANN owes applicants for .HOME, .CORP, and .MAIL and the public a plan to mitigate any risks and a proper pathway forward for these TLDs,” the applicants told ICANN (pdf) last Wednesday.

A December 2015 study found that name collisions have occurred in new gTLDs, but that no truly serious problems have been caused.

That does not mean .home, .corp and .mail would be safe to delegate, however.

ICANN to flip the secret key to the internet

Kevin Murphy, July 20, 2016, Domain Tech

ICANN is about to embark on a year-long effort to warn the internet that it plans to replace the top-level cryptographic keys used in DNSSEC for the first time.

CTO David Conrad told DI today that ICANN will rotate the so-called Key Signing Key that is used as the “trust anchor” for all DNSSEC queries that happen on the internet.

Due to the complexity of the process, and the risk that something might go wrong, the move is to be announced in the coming days even though the new public key will not replace the existing one until October 2017.

The KSK is a cryptographic key pair used to sign the Zone Signing Keys that in turn sign the DNS root zone. It’s basically at the top of the DNSSEC hierarchy — all trust in DNSSEC flows from it.

It’s considered good practice in DNSSEC to rotate keys every so often, largely to reduce the window would-be attackers have to compromise them.

The Zone Signing Key used by ICANN and Verisign to sign the DNS root is rotated quarterly, and individual domain owners can rotate their own keys as and when they choose, but the same KSK has been in place since the root was first signed in 2010.

Conrad said that ICANN is doing the first rollover partly to ensure that the procedures in has in place for changing keys are effective and could be deployed in case of emergency.

That said, this first rotation is going to happen at a snail’s pace.

Key generation is a complex matter, requiring the physical presence of at least three of seven trusted key holders.

These seven individuals possess physical keys to bank-style strong boxes which contain secure smart cards. Three of the seven cards are needed to generate a new key.

Each of the quarterly ZSK signing ceremonies — which are recorded and broadcast live over the internet — takes about five hours.

The first step in the rollover, Conrad said, is to generate the keys at ICANN’s US east coast facility in October this year. A copy will be moved to a facility on the west coast in February.

The first time the public key will appear in DNS will be July 11, 2017, when it will appear alongside the current key.

It will finally replace the current key completely on October 11, 2017, by which time the DNS should be well aware of the new key, Conrad said.

There is some risk of things going wrong, which could affect domains that are DNSSEC-signed, which is another reason for the slowness of the rollover.

If ISPs that support DNSSEC do not start supporting the new KSK before the final switch-over, they’ll fail to correctly resolve DNSSEC-signed domains, which could lead to some sites going dark for some users.

There’s also a risk that the increased DNS packet sizes during the period when both KSKs are in use could cause queries to be dropped by firewalls, Conrad said.

“Folks who have things configured the right way won’t actually need to do anything but because DNSSEC is relatively new and this software hasn’t really been tested, we need to get the word out to everyone that this change is going to be occurring,” said Conrad.

ICANN will conduct outreach over the coming 15 months via the media, social media and technology conferences, he said.

It is estimated that about 20% of the internet’s DNS resolvers support DNSSEC, but most of those belong to just two companies — Google and Comcast — he said.

The number of signed domains is tiny as a percentage of the 326 million domains in existence today, but still amounts to millions of names.