ICANN has closed down part of its new generic top-level domain portal after finding “potential vulnerabilities” that put “confidential applicant information” at risk.
The shutdown — which has been going on for at least 30 hours — affects the Customer Service and Knowledge Base parts of the site, but ICANN said it is so far not aware of any attacks against the system.
While it’s waiting for a patch, ICANN has decided to move the affected areas behind the unpopular Citrix remote terminal software used previously in the TLD Application System.
This notice was posted on the site:
ICANN performs ongoing monitoring and analysis of our systems, including the Customer Service system. As part of this work, we recently identified potential vulnerabilities in the system used for Customer Service and the Knowledge Base (containing new gTLD articles and information).
Patches are being provided to ICANN to address these issues.
In the mean time, given that use of the Customer Service system was recently expanded, and now includes confidential applicant information, the decision was taken to move the system behind Citrix. This will provide for additional security for applicant information.
We are now testing the installation. This should be completed in the next few days. This decision is a proactive measure. There have been no known compromises to the data, attacks or other actions by third parties (other than our own analysis).
Off the top of my head — and I may be under-counting — this is the fifth significant technical glitch to hit the new gTLD program since April.
There was the notorious TAS bug, which took the system offline entirely for six weeks while ICANN fixed a data leakage vulnerability and upgraded its system capacity.
There was the Reveal Day screw-up, during which Arab community members noticed that all the applied-for Arabic gTLDs were broadcast back-to-front in a presentation.
Then ICANN accidentally published the home addresses of many applicants’ officers and directors, something it had promised not to do. This was probably human error and it has since apologized.
Then the “digital archery” batching system was yanked, after it emerged that TAS performance still wasn’t up to the task and that the scoring results were unreliable.
Former new gTLD program director Michael Salazar resigned a month ago; it is widely believed that he was taking the fall for the gTLD system bugs to that point.
While the latest bug appears — so far — to have not compromised any data, some applicants have nevertheless been frustrated by the fact that the customer service portal has been offline for over a day.
Another possible explanation has been put forward for ICANN’s suspension of digital archery, this time by one of the third-party digital archery service providers.
The ambitiously named Digital Archery Experts says it alerted ICANN to the presence of a technical problem a week ago.
Chief technology officer Dirk Bhagat described it thus:
Instead of generating the timestamp immediately, we believe the TAS timestamp generation process may be delayed by increases in system load…
Since most applicants are aiming for the 000 millisecond variance at the minute mark, this can introduce varying timestamps since applicants are shooting for the exact same second on the minute. We have also noted that our results were a lot more consistent when attempts were made to hit the target at various offsets after the minute mark, for example, aiming for 15:32:07 instead of 15:32:00.
It’s not exactly rocket science. In short, he’s saying that the TAS can’t handle too many applicants logging in and shooting at the same time; more load equals poorer performance.
This won’t be news to many applicants, some of whom saw downtime last week that seemed to be caused by a meltdown of the sluggish Citrix virtual machine software.
It also seems to be consistent with the hypothesis that the massive amount of calibration going on — much of it by digital archery service providers themselves — has caused more load than TAS can handle.
With only 20% of applications currently assigned a timestamp, and only a week left on the clock, the situation could only have been exacerbated by lots of last-minute arrows being fired.
While digital archery may be conceptually similar to grabbing a dropping domain or hitting a landrush, it seems pretty clear that TAS is not as redundantly provisioned as the typical registry SRS.
Bhagat said that ICANN could mitigate the impact of the problem by separating timestamp generation as much as possible from the parts of the infrastructure impacted most by system load.
This might all be academic, however.
Digital archery and batching are high on the agenda here at ICANN 44 in Prague, and many attendees hope that the controversial system may be gone for good before the week is out.
That includes some members of the Governmental Advisory Committee, which in an open meeting yesterday seemed to be coming to the conclusion that it would advise ICANN to ditch digital archery.
The GAC and the ICANN’s board’s new gTLD program committee are having their first public facetime this afternoon at 1630 local time, at which a better sense of how both plan to proceed might emerge.
I’m excited to announce the launch of a comprehensive new gTLD application tracking service, featuring a unique built-in string similarity checker, right here on DI.
The service will provide the foundation for all of DI’s new gTLD program analysis over the coming months and years, and is designed to bring together all the best information about each application under one roof.
All 1,930 applications can currently be searched and sorted by applicant, string, back-end registry provider, and status.
Users can also cross-reference applications in contention sets and read salient extracts from each application.
The gTLD application database will shortly be linked to the existing PROfile service, meaning DI PRO subscribers will have access to a database of over 3,000 domain name industry companies.
More features and bid-by-bid analysis will be added as the program progresses, but the feature I’m most excited about today is the string similarity checker, which is already built into every application profile.
This tool checks for visual and phonetic similarity with other applications, existing gTLDs and ccTLDs, as well as strings that are specially protected by the ICANN Applicant Guidebook.
Semantic similarity functionality will be added in the next few days.
Similarity is important for two reasons:
1) the String Similarity Panel, which will create new contention sets based on similar but not identical strings in a couple of months, and
2) the String Confusion Objection, which enables applicants to force rivals into the same contention set based on visual, aural or semantic similarity.
In testing, it’s already thrown up some possible future objections and contention sets that I had not previously considered, and early beta testers — applicants themselves — tell me they think it’s fantastic.
Here’s a screenshot from one of the .sex applications, to give you a taste.
Note that, unfortunately, the string similarity feature does not currently support the relatively small number of IDN string applications.
If you’re not already a DI PRO subscriber, you can sign up instantly here using PayPal. If you have any questions about the service, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
ICANN’s digital archery system, which will be used to decide the fates of many new gTLD applicants, may have a bug, according to one applicant.
In a must-read post over on CircleID, Top Level Domain Holdings CEO Antony Van Couvering presents some intriguing evidence that ICANN’s system may be mis-recording timestamps.
Van Couvering hypothesizes that that when applicants’ clicks are recorded before their target time, the software records “the wrong seconds value, but with the right milliseconds value”.
He’s asked ICANN to look into the issue, and has added his voice to those clamoring for gTLD batching to be scrapped entirely.
With so many applicants using custom software to fire their arrows, millisecond differences will be hugely important.
However, as Van Couvering notes, ICANN does not plan to reveal applicants’ scores until July 11, so it’s impossible to tell if this alleged “bug” in the test suite is replicated in the live firing range.
The digital archery system uses the now-notoriously flawed TLD Application System.
JUNE 12 UPDATE:
In a follow-up post, Van Couvering reports, based on a conversation with ICANN, that the “bug” was indeed present, but that it was in the presentation layer, rather than the underlying database.
In other words, it was cosmetic and unlikely to influence the outcome of the batching process.
Sint Maarten’s new .sx country-code top-level domain has been online for at least a couple months now, but Google’s Chrome browser appears to be still a bit wary of it.
Typing “registry.sx” and “nic.sx” into Chrome’s combined URL/search bar today, instead of being sent to my chosen destination I was instead sent to a page of Google search results.
The browser presented the message “Did you mean to go to http://registry.sx?”.
Once my intentions were confirmed, Chrome bounced me to the registry’s web site and seemed to remember my preference on future visits. Other Chrome users have reported the same behavior.
Chrome is understood to use the Public Suffix list to figure out what is and isn’t a domain, and .sx does not currently appear on that list.
Internet Explorer and Firefox (also a Public Suffix list user) both seem already to resolve .sx names normally.
While not a massive problem for .sx, which has just a handful of second-level domains active, new gTLD applicants might want to pay attention to this kind of thing.
Chrome has a significant share of the browser market – about 15% by some counts, as high as 38% by others.
Launching a new gTLD without full browser support could look messy. Chrome isn’t blocking access to .sx, but its handling of the new TLD is not particularly graceful.
Imagine a scenario in which you’ve just launched your dot-brand, and instead of arriving at your web site Chrome users are instead directed to Google (with the top sponsored result a link you’ve probably paid for).
ICANN is currently pondering ways to promote the universal acceptance of TLDs for precisely this reason.
Searches for the pop producer Will.I.Am prompt Chrome to attempt to find an address in the Armenian ccTLD.