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Verisign says new gTLDs put millions at risk

Kevin Murphy, May 26, 2016, Domain Tech

Verisign has revived its old name collisions security scare story, publishing this week a weighty research paper claiming millions are at risk of man-in-the-middle attacks.

It’s actually a study into how a well-known type of attack, first documented in the 1990s, might become easier due to the expansion of the DNS at the top level.

According to the paper there might be as many as 238,000 instances per day of query traffic intended for private networks leaking to the public DNS, where attackers could potentially exploit it to all manner of genuinely nasty things.

But Verisign has seen no evidence of the vulnerability being used by bad guys yet and it might not be as scary as it first appears.

You can read the paper here (pdf), but I’ll attempt to summarize.

The problem concerns a virtually ubiquitous protocol called WPAD, for Web Proxy Auto-Discovery.

It’s used by mostly by Windows clients to automatically download a web proxy configuration file that tells their browser how to connect to the web.

Organizations host these files on their local networks. The WPAD protocol tries to find the file using DHCP first, but fails over to DNS.

So, your browser might look for a wpad.dat file on wpad.example.com, depending on what domain your computer belongs to, using DNS.

The vulnerability arises because companies often use previously undelegated TLDs — such as .prod or .global — on their internal networks. Their PCs could belong to domains ending in .corp, even though .corp isn’t real TLD in the DNS root.

When these devices are roaming outside of their local network, they will still attempt to use the DNS to find their WPAD file. And if the TLD their company uses internally has actually been delegated by ICANN, their WPAD requests “leak” to registry or registrant.

A malicious attacker could register a domain name in a TLD that matches the domain the target company uses internally, allowing him to intercept and respond to the WPAD request and setting himself up as the roaming laptop’s web proxy.

That would basically allow the attacker to do pretty much whatever he wanted to the victim’s browsing experience.

Verisign says it saw 20 million WPAD leaks hit its two root servers every single day when it collected its data, and estimates that 6.6 million users are affected.

The paper says that of the 738 new gTLDs it looked at, 65.7% of them saw some degree of WPAD query leakage.

The ones with the most leaks, in order, were .global, .ads, .group, .network, .dev, .office, .prod, .hsbc, .win, .world, .one, .sap and .site.

It’s potentially quite scary, but there are some mitigating factors.

First, the problem is not limited to new gTLDs.

Yesterday I talked to Matt Larson, ICANN’s new vice president of research (who held the same post at Verisign’s until a few years ago).

He said ICANN has seen the same problem with .int, which was delegated in 1988. ICANN runs one of .int’s authoritative name servers.

“We did a really quick look at 24 hours of traffic and saw a million and a half queries for domain names of the form wpad.something.int, and that’s just one name server out of several in a 24-hour period,” he said.

“This is not a new problem, and it’s not a problem that’s specific to new gTLDs,” he said.

According to Verisign’s paper, only 2.3% of the WPAD query leaks hitting its root servers were related to new gTLDs. That’s about 238,000 queries every day.

With such a small percentage, you might wonder why new gTLDs are being highlighted as a problem.

I think it’s because organizations typically won’t own the new gTLD domain name that matches their internal domain, something that would eliminate the risk of an attacker exploiting a leak.

Verisign’s report also has limited visibility into the actual degree of risk organizations are experiencing today.

Its research methodology by necessity was limited to observing leaked WPAD queries hitting its two root servers before the new gTLDs in question were delegated.

The company only collected relevant NXDOMAIN traffic to its two root servers — DNS queries with answers typically get resolved closer to the user in the DNS hierarchy — so it has no visibility to whether the same level of leaks happen post-delegation.

Well aware of the name collisions problem, largely due to Verisign’s 11th-hour epiphany on the subject, ICANN forces all new gTLD registries to wildcard their zones for 90 days after they go live.

All collision names are pointed to 127.0.53.53, a reserved IP address picked in order to catch the attention of network administrators (DNS uses TCP/IP port 53).

Potentially, at-risk organizations could have fixed their collision problems shortly after the colliding gTLD was delegated, reducing the global impact of the vulnerability.

There’s no good data showing how many networks were reconfigured due to name collisions in the new gTLD program, but some anecdotal evidence of admins telling Google to go fuck itself when .prod got delegated.

A December 2015 report from JAS Advisors, which came up with the 127.0.53.53 idea, said the effects of name collisions have been rather limited.

ICANN’s Larson echoed the advice put out by security watchdog US-CERT this week, which among other things urges admins to use proper domain names that they actually control on their internal networks.

It’s official: new gTLDs didn’t kill anyone

Kevin Murphy, December 2, 2015, Domain Tech

The introduction of new gTLDs posed no risk to human life.

That’s the conclusion of JAS Advisors, the consulting company that has been working with ICANN on the issue of DNS name collisions.

It is final report “Mitigating the Risk of DNS Namespace Collisions”, published last night, JAS described the response to the “controlled interruption” mechanism it designed as “annoyed but understanding and generally positive”.

New text added since the July first draft says: “ICANN has received fewer than 30 reports of disruptive collisions since the first delegation in October of 2013. None of these reports have reached the threshold of presenting a danger to human life.”

That’s a reference to Verisign’s June 2013 claim that name collisions could disrupt “life-supporting” systems such as those used by emergency response services.

Names collisions, you will recall, are scenarios in which a newly delegated TLD matches a string that it is already used widely on internal networks.

Such scenarios could (and have) led to problems such as system failure and DNS queries leaking on to the internet.

The applied-for gTLDs .corp and .home have been effectively banned, due to the vast numbers of organizations already using them.

All other gTLDs were obliged, following JAS recommendations, to redirect all non-existent domains to 127.0.53.53, an IP address chosen to put network administrators in mind of port 53, which is used by the DNS protocol.

As we reported a little over a year ago, many administrators responded swearily to some of the first collisions.

JAS says in its final report:

Over the past year, JAS has monitored technical support/discussion fora in search of posts related to controlled interruption and DNS namespace collisions. As expected, controlled interruption caused some instances of limited operational issues as collision circumstances were encountered with new gTLD delegations. While some system administrators expressed frustration at the difficulties, overall it appears that controlled interruption in many cases is having the hoped-for outcome. Additionally, in private communication with a number of firms impacted by controlled interruption, JAS would characterize the overall response as “annoyed but understanding and generally positive” – some even expressed appreciation as issues unknown to them were brought to their attention.

There are a number of other substantial additions to the report, largely focusing on types of use cases JAS believes are responsible for most name collision traffic.

Oftentimes, such as the random 10-character domains Google’s Chrome browser uses for configuration purposes, the collision has no ill effect. In other cases, the local system administrators were forced to remedy their software to avoid the collision.

The report also reveals that the domain name corp.com, which is owned by long-time ICANN volunteer Mikey O’Connor, receives a “staggering” 30 DNS queries every second.

That works out to almost a billion (946,728,000) queries per year, coming when a misconfigured system or inexperienced user attempts to visit a .corp domain name.

Verisign offers free public DNS

Kevin Murphy, September 30, 2015, Domain Tech

Verisign has launched a free recursive DNS service aimed at the consumer market.

Public DNS, as the service is called, is being positioned as a way to avoid having your browsing history collated and sold for marketing purposes by your ISP.

There’s no charge, and the company is promising not to sell your data. It also does not plan to monetize NXDOMAIN traffic.

So what’s in it for Verisign? According to a FAQ:

One of Verisign’s core operating principles is to be a good steward of the Internet. Providing the Verisign Public DNS service supports the overall ecosystem of DNS and solidifies end-user trust in the critical navigation that they have come to depend upon for their everyday interactions.

Verisign also offers paid-for recursive DNS services to enterprises, so there may be an up-sell opportunity here.

The market for free public DNS currently has big players including Cisco’s OpenDNS and Google.

If you want to use the Verisign service, the IP addresses to switch to are 64.6.64.6 and 64.6.65.6.

.sexy may be blocked in Iran

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2015, Domain Tech

Some networks in Iran appear to be systematically blocking Uniregistry’s .sexy gTLD.

That’s one of the conclusions of a slightly odd experiment commissioned by ICANN.

The newly published An Analysis of New gTLD Universal Acceptance was conducted by APNIC Labs. The idea was to figure out whether there are any issues with new gTLDs on the internet’s DNS infrastructure.

It concluded that there is not — new gTLDs work just fine on the internet’s plumbing.

However, the survey — which comprised over 100 million DNS resolution attempts — showed “One country, Iran, shows some evidence of a piecemeal block of Web names within the .sexy gTLD.”

The sample size for Iranian attempts to access .sexy was just 30 attempts. In most cases, users were able to resolve the names with DNS, but HTTP responses appeared to be blocked.

The survey did not test .porn or .adult names, but it might be safe to assume similar behavior in those gTLDs.

APNIC also concluded that Israel’s .il ccTLD, included in the report as a known example of TLD blocking at the national level, is indeed blocked in Iran and Syria.

The study also found that there may be issues with Adobe’s Flash software, when used in Internet Explorer, when it comes to resolving internationalized domain names.

That conclusion seems to have been reached largely because the test’s methodology saw a Flash advertisement discretely fetching URLs in the background of web pages using Google Ads.

When the experimenters used HTML 5 to run their scripts instead, there was no problem resolving the names.

The study did not look at some of the perhaps more pressing UA issues, such as the ability for registrants and others to use new gTLD domain names in web applications.

Blue Coat explains .zip screw-up

Kevin Murphy, September 4, 2015, Domain Tech

Security vendor Blue Coat apparently doesn’t check whether domains are actually domains before it advises customers to block them.

The company yesterday published a blog post that sought to explain why it denounced Google’s unlaunched .zip gTLD as “100% shady” even though the only .zip domain in existence leads to google.com.

Unrepentant, Blue Coat continued to insist that businesses should consider blocking .zip domains, while acknowledging there aren’t any.

It said that its censorware treats anything entered into a browser’s address bar as a URL, so it has been treating file names that end in .zip — the common format for compressed archive files — as if they are .zip domain names. The blog states:

when one of those URLs shows up out on the public Internet, as a real Web request, we in turn treat it as a URL. Funny-looking URLs that don’t resolve tend to get treated as Suspicious — after all, we don’t see any counter-balancing legitimate traffic there.

Further, if a legal domain name gets enough shady-looking traffic — with no counter-evidence of legitimate Web traffic — it’s possible for one of our AI systems to conclude that the behavior isn’t changing, and that it deserves a Suspicious rating in the database. So it gets one.

In other words, Blue Coat has been categorizing Zip file names that somehow find their way into a browser address bar as .zip domain names.

That may sound like a software bug that Blue Coat needs to fix, but it’s still telling people to block Google’s gTLD anyway, writing:

In conclusion, none of the .zip “domains” we see in our traffic logs are requests to registered sites. Nevertheless, we recommend that people block these requests, until valid .zip domains start showing up.

That’s a slight change of position from its original “Businesses should consider blocking traffic that leads to the riskiest TLDs”, but it still strikes me as irresponsible.

The company has still not disclosed the real numbers behind any of the percentages in its report, so we still have no idea whether it was fair to label, for example, Famous Four’s .review as “100% shady”.

Concern over mystery TMCH outage

Kevin Murphy, May 20, 2015, Domain Tech

The Trademark Clearinghouse is investigating the causes and impact of an outage that is believed to have hit its primary database for 10 hours last Friday.

Some in the intellectual property community are concerned that the downtime may have allowed people to register domain names without receiving Trademark Claims notices.

The downtime was confirmed as unscheduled by the TMCH on a mailing list, but requests for more information sent its way today were deflected to ICANN.

An ICANN spokesperson said that the outage is being analyzed right now, which will take a couple of days.

The problem affected the IBM-administered Trademark Database, which registrars query to determine whether they need to serve up a Claims notice when a customer tries to register a domain that matches a trademark.

I gather that registries are supposed to reject registration attempts if they cannot get a definitive answer from the TMDB, but some are concerned that that may not have been the case during the downtime.

Over 145,000 Claims notices have been sent to trademark owners since the TMCH came online over a year ago.

(UPDATE: This story was edited May 21 to clarify that it is the TMCH conducting the investigation, rather than ICANN.)

Site names and shames shoddy TLD support

Kevin Murphy, April 20, 2015, Domain Tech

A self-professed geek from Australia is running a campaign to raise awareness of new gTLDs by naming and shaming big companies that don’t provide comprehensive TLD support on their web sites.

SupportTheNew.domains, run by university coder Stuart Ryan, has been around since last June and currently indexes support problems at dozens of web sites.

The likes of Facebook, Amazon, Adobe and Apple are among those whose sites are said to offer incomplete support for new gTLDs.

It’s the first attempt I’m aware of to list “universal acceptance” failures in any kind of structured way.

Ryan says on the site that he set up the campaign after running into problems signing up for services using his new .email email address.

The site relies on submissions from users and seems to be updated whenever named companies respond to support tickets.

Universal acceptance is a hot topic in the new gTLD space, with ICANN recently creating a steering group to promote blanket TLD support across the internet.

Often, sites rely on outdated lists of TLDs or regular expressions that think TLDs are limited to three characters when they attempt to verify domains in email addresses or URLs.

Google eliminating domains from search results

Kevin Murphy, April 17, 2015, Domain Tech

Google has made another move to make domain names less relevant to internet users.

The company will no longer display URLs in search results pages for any web site that adopts a certain technical standard.

Instead, the name of the web site will be given. So instead of a DI post showing up with “domainincite.com” in results, it would be “Domain Incite”.

Google explained the change in a blog post incorrectly titled “Better presentation of URLs in search results”.

Webmasters wishing to present a company name or brand instead of a domain name need to publish metadata on their home pages. It’s just a few lines of code.

Google will make a determination whether to make the change based on whether the name meets these criteria:

Be reasonbly [sic] similar to your domain name

Be a natural name used to refer to the site, such as “Google,” rather than “Google, Inc.”

Be unique to your site—not used by some other site

Not be a misleading description of your site

Code samples and the rules are published here.

It strikes me that Google, by demanding naming uniqueness, is opening itself up for a world of hurt.

Could there be a landrush among non-unique brands? How will disputes be handled?

Right now the change has been made only to mobile search results and only in the US, but Google hinted that it could roll out elsewhere too.

More security issues prang ICANN site

Kevin Murphy, March 3, 2015, Domain Tech

ICANN has revealed details of a security problem on its web site that could have allowed new gTLD registries to view data belonging to their competitors.

The bug affected its Global Domains Division customer relationship management portal, which registries use to communicate with ICANN on issues related to delegation and launch.

ICANN took GDD down for three days, from when it was reported February 27 until last night, while it closed the hole.

The vulnerability would have enabled authenticated users to see information from other users’ accounts.

ICANN tells me the issue was caused because it had misconfigured some third-party software — I’m guessing the Salesforce.com platform upon which GDD runs.

A spokesperson said that the bug was reported by a user.

No third parties would have been able to exploit it, but ICANN has been coy about whether any it believes any registries used the bug to access their competitors’ accounts.

ICANN has ‘fessed up to about half a dozen crippling security problems in its systems since the launch of the new gTLD program.

Just in the last year, several systems have seen downtime due to vulnerabilities or attacks.

A similar kind of privilege escalation bug took down the Centralized Zone Data Service last April.

The RADAR service for registrars was offline for two weeks after being hacked last May.

A phishing attack against ICANN staff in December enabled hackers to view information not normally available to the public.

Why you can’t register emojis in gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2015, Domain Tech

The popular “emoji” smiley faces are banned as gTLD domain names for technical reasons, according to ICANN.

Emojis are a form of emoticon that originated on Japanese mobile networks but are now used by 12-year-old girls worldwide due to their support on Android and iPhone operating systems.

CokeIt emerged last week that Coca-Cola has registered a bunch of smiley-face domain names under .ws, the Samoan ccTLD, for use in an billboard advertising campaign in Puerto Rico.

.ws was selected because it’s one of only a few TLDs that allow emojis to be registered. Coke is spinning its choice of TLD as an abbreviation for “We Smile”.

This got me thinking: would emojis be something new gTLD registries could start to offer in order to differentiate themselves?

Coke’s emoji domains, it turns out, are just a form of internationalized domain name, like Chinese or Arabic or Greek.

Emoji symbols are in the Unicode standard and could therefore be converted to the ASCII-based, DNS-compatible Punycode under the hood in web browsers and other software.

One of Coke’s (smiley-face).ws domain names is represented as xn--h28h.ws in the DNS.

Unfortunately for gTLD registries, ICANN told DI last night that emojis are not permitted in gTLDs.

“Emoticons cannot be used as IDNs as these code points are DISALLOWED under IDNA2008 protocol,” ICANN said in a statement.

IDNA2008 is the latest version of the IETF standard used to define what Unicode characters can and cannot appear in IDNs.

RFC 5892 specifies what can be included in an IDNA2008 domain name, eliminating thousands of letters and symbols that were permissible under the old IDNA2003 standard.

These characters were ostensibly banned due to the possibility of IDN homograph attacks — when bad guys set up spoof web sites on IDNs that look almost indistinguishable from a domain used by, for example, a bank or e-commerce site.

But Unicode, citing Google data, reckons symbols could only ever be responsible for 0.000016% of such attacks. Most homograph attacks are much simpler, relying on for example the visual similarity of I and l.

Regardless, because IDNA2008 only allows Unicode characters that are actually used in spoken human languages, and because gTLD registries are contractually obliged to adhere to the IDNA2008 technical standards, emojis are not permitted in gTLDs.

All new gTLDs have to provide ICANN with a list of the Unicode code points they plan to support as IDNs when they undergo pre-delegation testing. Asking to support characters incompatible with IDNA2008 would result in a failed test, ICANN tells us.

ICANN does not regulate ccTLDs, of course, so the .ws registry is free to offer whatever domains it wants.

However, ICANN said that emoji domains are only currently supported by software that has not implemented the newer IDN protocol:

Emoticon domains only work in software that has not implemented the latest IDNA standard. Only the older, deprecated version of the IDNA standard allowed emoticons, more or less by accident. Over time, these domains will increasingly not work correctly as software vendors update their implementations.

So Coke, while winning brownie points for novelty, may have registered a bunch of damp squibs.

ICANN also told us that, regardless of what the technical standards say, you’d never be able to apply for an emoticon as a gTLD due to the “letters only” principle, which already bans numbers in top-level strings.