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Verisign’s security angst no reason to delay new gTLDs, says expert

Kevin Murphy, April 7, 2013, Domain Tech

Potential security vulnerabilities recently disclosed by Verisign and PayPal are well in hand and not a reason to delay the launch of new gTLDs, according to the chair of ICANN’s security committee.

Patrick Falstrom, chair of the Security and Stability Advisory Committee, said today that the risk of disastrous clashes between new gTLDs and corporate security certificates has been taken care of.

Talking to the GNSO Council at the ICANN public meeting in Beijing, he gave a definitive “no” when asked directly if the SSAC would advise ICANN to delay the delegation of new gTLDs for security reasons.

Falstrom had given a presentation on “internal name certificates”, one of the security risks raised by Verisign in a paper last week.

These are the same kinds of digital certificates given out by Certificate Authorities for use in SSL transactions on the web, but to companies for their own internal network use instead.

The SSAC, judging by Falstrom’s presentation, had a bit of an ‘oh-shit’ moment late last year when a member raised the possibility of new gTLDs clashing with the domain names on these certificates.

Consider the scenario:

A company has a private namespace on its LAN called .corp, for example, where it stores all of its sensitive corporate data. It uses a digital certificate, issued by a reputable CA, to encrypt this data in transit.

But today we have more than a few applicants for .corp that would use it as a gTLD accessible to the whole internet.

Should .corp get delegated by ICANN — which of course is by no means assured — then there could be the risk of CAs issuing certificates for public domains that clash with private domains.

That might enable, for example, a hacker on a Starbucks wifi network to present his evil laptop as a secured, green-padlocked, corporate server to an unlucky road warrior sitting in the same cafe.

According to Falstrom, at least 157 CAs have issued certificates that clash with applied-for new gTLDs. The actual number is probably much higher.

This risk was outlined in Verisign’s controversial security report to ICANN, which recommended delay to the new gTLD program until security problems were resolved, two weeks ago.

But Falstrom told the GNSO Council today that recent secretive work by the SSAC, along with ICANN security staff and the CA/Browser Forum, a certificate industry authority, has mitigated this risk to the point that delay is not needed.

Falstrom said that after the SSAC realized that there was a potential vulnerability, it got it touch with the CA/Browser Forum to share its concerns. But as it turned out, the Forum was already on the case.

The Forum decided in February, a couple of weeks after an SSAC briefing, that member CAs should stop issuing internal name certificates that clash with new gTLDs within 30 days of ICANN signing a registry contract for that gTLD.

It has also decided to revoke any already-issued internal domain certificate that clashes with a new gTLD within 120 days of contract signing.

This means that the vulnerability window will be much shorter, should the vulnerability start getting exploited in wild.

But only if all CAs conform to the CA/Browser Forum’s guidelines.

Much of this is detailed in a report issued by SSAC last month (pdf). The CA/Browser Forum’s guidance is here (pdf). Falstrom’s PowerPoint is available here (pdf)

Google starts supporting DNSSEC

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2013, Domain Tech

Google has started fully supporting DNSSEC, the domain name security standard, on its Public DNS service.

According to a blog post from the company, while the free-to-use DNS resolution service has always passed on DNSSEC requests, now its resolvers will also validate DNSSEC signatures.

What does this mean?

Well, users of Public DNS will get protected from DNS cache poisoning attacks, but only for the small number of domains (such as domainincite.com) that are DNSSEC-signed.

It also means that if a company borks its DNSSEC implementation or key rollover, it’s likely to cause problems for Public DNS users. Comcast, an even earlier adopter, sees such problems pretty regularly.

But the big-picture story is that a whole bunch of new validating resolvers have been added to the internet, providing a boost to DNSSEC’s protracted global roll-out.

Google said:

Currently Google Public DNS is serving more than 130 billion DNS queries on average (peaking at 150 billion) from more than 70 million unique IP addresses each day. However, only 7% of queries from the client side are DNSSEC-enabled (about 3% requesting validation and 4% requesting DNSSEC data but no validation) and about 1% of DNS responses from the name server side are signed. Overall, DNSSEC is still at an early stage and we hope that our support will help expedite its deployment.

One has to wonder whether Google’s participation in the ICANN new gTLD program — with its mandatory DNSSEC at the registry level — encouraged the company to adopt the technology.

Apple, Google and Microsoft still don’t understand new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 22, 2013, Domain Tech

The world’s most-popular web browsers are still failing to recognize new top-level domains, many months after they go live on the internet.

The version of the Safari browser that ships with the Mountain Lion iteration of Apple’s OS X appears to have even gone backwards, removing support for at least one TLD.

The most recent versions of Google’s Chrome and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer also both fail to recognize at least two of the internet’s most recently added TLDs.

According to informal tests on multiple computers this week, Safari 6 on Mountain Lion and the Windows 7 versions of Internet Explorer 9 and Chrome v24 all don’t understand .post and .cw addresses.

Remarkably, it appears that Safari 6 also no longer supports .sx domains, despite the fact that version 5 does.

Typing affected domain names into the address bars of these browsers will result in surfers being taken to a search page (usually Google) instead of their intended destination.

If you want to test your own browser, registry.sx, una.cw and ems.post are all valid, resolving domain names you can try.

The gTLD .post was entered into the DNS root last August and the first second-level domain names went live in October.

The ccTLDs .sx and .cw are for Sint Maarten (Dutch part) and Curacao respectively, two of three countries formed by the breakup of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010.

ICANN approved the delegation of .cw in October 2011 and second-level domains there have been live since at least July 2012 (that’s when the registry’s site, una.cw, went live).

SX Registry’s .sx was delegated in December 2011 and sites there have been live since early 2012. It went into general availability in November.

Safari v5 on Windows and OS X recognizes .sx as a TLD, but v6 on Mountain Lion does not.

The problems faced by .post and .cw on Chrome appear to be mostly due to the fact that neither TLD is included on the Public Suffix List, which Google uses to figure out what a TLD looks like.

A few days after we reported last May that .sx didn’t work on Chrome, SX Registry submitted its details to the PSL, which appears to have solved its problems with that browser.

It’s not at all clear to me why .sx is borked on newer versions of Safari but not the older ones.

If the problem sounds trivial, believe me: it’s not.

The blurring of the lines between search and direct navigation is one of the biggest threats to the long-term relevance of domain names, so it’s vital to the industry’s interests that the problem of universal acceptance is sorted out sooner rather than later.

Is .home back on ICANN’s new gTLD risk list?

Kevin Murphy, January 13, 2013, Domain Tech

While most new gTLD applicants were focused on delays to the program revealed during last Friday’s ICANN webinar, another bit of news may also be a cause for concern for .home applicants.

As Rubens Kuhl of Nic.br spotted, ICANN revealed that 11 applications have not yet passed their DNS Stability check.

SLide

That’s a reversal from November, when ICANN said that all new gTLD applications had passed the stability review.

As I noted at the time, that was good news for .home, which some say may cause security problems if it is delegated.

As Kuhl observed, there are exactly 11 applications for .home, the same as the number of applications that now appear to have un-passed the DNS Stability check.

So is ICANN taking a closer look at .home, or is it just a numerical coincidence?

The string is considered risky by many because .home already receives a substantial amount of DNS traffic at the root servers, which will be inherited by whichever company wins the contention set.

It’s on a list of frequently requested invalid TLDs produced by ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee which was incorporated by reference in the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook.

Some major ISPs, notably BT in the UK, use .home as a pseudo-TLD in their residential routers.

Who really uses IDNs? [Guest Post]

Stéphane Van Gelder, November 19, 2012, Domain Tech

Are Internationalised Domain Names really useful, or just a way for an ASCII-focused internet governance community to feel better about itself?

Beyond all the hoopla about ICANN’s 2009 program to enable countries to operate their own non-Latin script internet suffixes (aka the “IDN ccTLD Fast Track”), what should really matter is the Internet user.

Yes, those sitting in ICANN meeting rooms at the time, listening to the hyperbole about how the internet was now going truly global probably felt like they were feeding the hungry and bringing peace to the world. But do people actually use IDNs?

I will admit that at the time, I was dubious. Of course, saying so in ICANN circles would have been akin to wearing a “Camembert is bad” t-shirt in the streets of Paris: poor form! But still, I couldn’t help ask myself if having a single one-language system unite the world was actually such a bad thing?

“How would you like it if the Internet had been invented in China and you had to use their alphabet,” was the usual rebuke I got if I ever dared to doubt out loud. And there really is no arguing with that. If the internet was Chinese, I’d want the Mandarin version of ICANN to roll out IDNs pretty sharpish.

Nonetheless, can the usefulness of IDNs still be questioned?

Facebook in Latin

Talking to a local internet expert whilst attending last week’s excellent Domain Forum in Sofia, Bulgaria, the answer would seem to be a surprising yes.

“Why would kids in this country use IDNs,” I was told when I suggested that, surely, Bulgaria must be excited about the prospect of natural language web addresses. “What worries the authorities here is the fact that kids are using Latin scripts so much on social media sites that they don’t even know how to write in Cyrillic anymore! So even if they could use IDN web and email addresses, why would they? They want to communicate like everyone else does on Facebook.”

In truth, Bulgaria’s view may be skewed by the horrible experience it’s had with ICANN’s IDN Fast Track. The country was refused its own IDN country code due to a perceived similarity with another TLD that no-one in Bulgaria really feels is warranted. But not all potential IDN users feel they are useless. Neighbors in Russia tell of a different IDN experience.

The Russian registry saw stunning initial take-up when it opened the IDN .РФ (.RF for Russian Federation) to general consumption on November 11, 2010. Registration volumes were explosive, with almost 600,000 names registered in the first month. Strong growth continued for a year, hitting a peak of 937,913 registered names in December 2011.

No profit

But the following month, that number fell off a cliff. Total registrations dropped to 844,153 in January 2012. “Initial registrations were driven in part by speculators,” explains ccTLD .RU’s Leonid Todorov. “But when people saw they couldn’t make huge profits on the domains, they started letting them go.”

Even so, .РФ remains a real success. Although November 2012 figures show a year on year decline of 8.63%, the TLD still sports a whopping 845,037 names.

At 66%, .РФ has a slightly lower renewal rate than ASCII Russian equivalent .ru (73%), probably because of those day-one speculators, but it remains widely used. Current delegation figures (i.e. the number of domain names that are actually used for email or websites) stand at a commendable 70% and have not stopped rising since .РФ opened in 2010 with a 45% delegation rate.

The Cyrillic Russian domain sees a vast predominance of personal use, with 77% percent of domains being registered by individuals. “Russians care deeply about their national identity,” says my Bulgarian friend when I suggest that IDNs do seem to matter in some Cyrillic-using countries. “To them, Dot RF is a matter of national pride.”

National pride

So IDNs may not really be all that different from ASCII domain names, with take-up depending on perceived use or value. Europe’s IDN experience seems to confirm this, as European registry EURid’s Giovanni Seppia explained in Sofia.

He revealed that since EURid introduced IDNs on December 11, 2009, registrations reached a peak of around 70,000 (a mere fraction of the 3.7 million names currently registered in the .eu space) before dropping off quite sharply.

Why? Well .eu IDNs may not hold much potential for real use or investment value for Europeans. Although web use is possible with IDNs, software primarily designed for an ASCII-only world does not always make it easy.

Email capability would be a real boost, but so far only the Chinese seem to have enabled it for their local script domains. The Chinese registry recently announced this, without giving details on how the use of all-Chinese character email addresses has been implemented or which email clients support IDNs.

Whatever the technology, countries which combine national pride and a character set far removed from our own probably see more desire for IDNs. With two years of hindsight, Russia obviously loves its IDN. And as other countries like China bring more elaborate IDN capabilities online, demand should grow and force even this IDN skeptic to recognize the new character(s) of the internet.

This is a guest post written by Stéphane Van Gelder, strategy director for NetNames. He has served as chair of the GNSO Council and is currently a member of ICANN’s Nominating Committee.