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New gTLDs are the new Y2K: .corp and .home are doomed and everything else is delayed

Kevin Murphy, August 6, 2013, Domain Registries

The proposed gTLDs .home and .corp create risks to the internet comparable to the Millennium Bug, which terrorized a burgeoning internet at the turn of the century, and should be rejected.

Meanwhile, every other gTLD that has been applied for in the current round could be delayed by months in order to mitigate the risks they pose to internet users.

These are the conclusions ICANN has drawn from Interisle Consulting’s independent study into the problems that could be caused when new gTLDs clash with widely-used internal naming systems.

The extensive study, which drew on 8TB of traffic data provided by 11 of the 13 DNS root server operators, is 197 pages long and absolutely fascinating. It was published by ICANN today.

As Interisle CEO Lyman Chapin reported at the ICANN meeting in Durban a few weeks ago, the large majority of TLDs that have been applied for in the current round already receive large amounts of error traffic:

Of the 1,409 distinct applied-for TLD strings, 1,367 appeared at least once in the 2013 DITL [Day In the Life of the Internet] data with the string at the TLD position.

We’ve previously reported on the volume of queries new gTLDs get, such as the fact that .home gets half a billion hits a day and that 3% of all requests were for strings that have been applied for in the current round.

The extra value in Interisle’s report comes when it starts to figure out how many end points are making these requests, and how many second-level domains they’re looking for.

These are vitally important factors for assessing the scale of the risk of each TLD.

Again, .home and .corp appear to be the most dangerous.

Interisle capped the number of second-level domains it counted in the 2013 data at 100,000 per TLD per root server — 1,100,000 domains in total — and .home was the only TLD string to hit this cap.

Cisco Systems’ proposed .cisco TLD came close, failing to hit the cap in only one of the 11 root servers providing data, while .box and .iinet (both also used widely on home routers) hit the cap on at least one root server.

The lowest count of second-level domains of the 35 listed in the report came from .hsbc, the bank brand, but even that number was a not-inconsiderable 2,000.

Why are these requests being made?

Surprisingly, interactions between a security feature in Google’s own Chrome browser and common residential routers appear to be the biggest cause of queries for non-existent TLDs.

That issue, which impacts mainly .home, accounts for about 46% of the requests counted, according to the report.

In second place, with 15% of the queries, are requests for real domain names that appear to have had a non-existent TLD — again, usually .home — appended by a residential router or cable modem.

Apparent typos — where a user enters a URL but forgets to type the TLD — were a relatively small percentage of requests, coming in at under 1% of queries.

The study also found that bad requests come from many thousands of sources. This table compares the number of requests to the number of sources.

2013 RankStringCount (thousands)Prefix Count (thousands)
1home952944302
2corp144507185
3ice1978948
4global12352308
5med1080180
6site1071650
7ads10563148
8network871157
9group858045
10cisco828478

The “Count” column is the number, in thousands, of requests for each TLD string. The “Prefix Count ” column refers to the number of sources providing this traffic, counted by the /24 IP address block (each of which is up to 256 potential hosts).

As you can see, there’s not necessarily a correlation between the number of requests a TLD gets and the number of people making the requests — .google gets queried by more sources than the others, but it’s only ranked 24 in terms of overall query volume, for example.

Interisle concluded from all this that .corp and .home are simply too dangerous to delegate, comparing the problem to the year 2000 bug, where a global effort was required to make sure software could support the four-digit dating scheme required by the turn of the century.

Here’s what the report says about .corp:

users could be taken to the wrong web site (and possibly be exposed to phishing attacks) or told that web sites do not exist when they do, depending on how the .corp TLD is resolved. A corporate mail system might attempt to deliver email to the wrong server, and this could expose sensitive or confidential information to someone who was not supposed to receive it. In essence, everything deployed in the private network would need to be checked.

There are no easy solutions to these problems. In an ideal world, the operators of these private networks would get a timely notification of the new TLD’s delegation and then take action to address these issues. That seems very improbable. Even if ICANN generated sufficient publicity about the new TLD’s delegation, there is no guarantee that this will come to the attention of the management or operators of the private networks that could be jeopardized by the delegation.

It seems reasonable to estimate that the amount of effort involved might be comparable to a wholesale renumbering of the internal network or the Y2K problem.

It notes that applied-for TLDs such as .site, .office, .group and .inc appear to be used in similar ways to .home and .corp, but do not appear to present as broad a risk.

To be clear, the risk we’re talking about here isn’t just people typing the wrong things into browsers, it’s about the infrastructure on many thousands of private networks starting to make the wrong security assumptions about domain names.

ICANN, in response, has outlined a series of measures sure to infuriate many gTLD applicants, but which are consistent with its goal to protect the security and stability of the internet.

They’re also consistent with some of the recommendations put forward by Verisign over the last few months in its campaign to show that new gTLDs pose huge risks.

First, .corp and .home are dead. These two strings have been categorized “high risk” by ICANN, which said:

Given the risk level presented by these strings, ICANN proposes not to delegate either one until such time that an applicant can demonstrate that its proposed string should be classified as low risk

Given the Y2K-scale effort required to mitigate the risks, and the fact that the eventual pay-off wouldn’t compensate for the work, I feel fairly confident in saying the two strings will never be delegated.

Another 80% of the applied-for strings have been categorized “low risk”. ICANN has published a spreadsheet explaining which string falls into which category. Low risk does not mean they get off scot-free, however.

First, all registries for low-risk strings will not be allowed to activate any domain names in their gTLD for 120 days after contract signing.

Second, for 30 days after a gTLD is delegated the new registries will have to reach out to the owners of each IP address that attempts to query names in that gTLD, to try to mitigate the risk of internal name collisions.

This, as applicants will no doubt quickly argue, is going to place them under a massive cost burden.

But their outlook is considerably brighter than that of the remaining 20% of applications, which are categorized as “uncalculated risk” and face a further three to six months of delay while ICANN conducts further studies into whether they’re each “high” or “low” risk strings.

In other words, the new gTLD program is about to see its biggest shake-up since the GAC delivered its Advice in Beijing, adding potentially millions in costs and delays for applicants.

ICANN’s proposed mitigation efforts are now open for public comment.

One has to wonder why the hell ICANN didn’t do this study two years ago.

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Dotless domains “dangerous”, security study says

Kevin Murphy, August 6, 2013, Domain Tech

An independent security study has given ICANN a couple dozen very good reasons to continue outlaw “dotless” domain names, but stopped short of recommending an outright ban.

The study, conducted by boutique security outfit Carve Systems and published by ICANN this morning, confirms that dotless domains — as it sounds, a single TLD label with no second-level domain and no dot — are potentially “dangerous”.

If dotless domains were to be allowed by ICANN, internet users may unwittingly send their private data across the internet instead of a local network, Carve found.

That’s basically the same “internal name collision” problem outlined in a separate paper, also published today, by Interisle Consulting (more on that later).

But dotless domains would also open up networks to serious vulnerabilities such as cookie leakage and cross-site scripting attacks, according to the report.

“A bug in a dotless website could be used to target any website a user frequents,” it says.

Internet Explorer, one of the many applications tested by Carve, automatically assumes dotless domains are local network resources and gives them a higher degree of trust, it says.

Such domains also pose risks to users of standard local networking software and residential internet routers, the study found. It’s not just Windows boxes either — MacOS and Unix could also be affected.

These are just a few of the 25 distinct security risks Carve identified, 10 of which are considered serious.

ICANN has a default prohibition on dotless gTLDs in the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook, but it’s allowed would-be registries to specially request the ability to go dotless via Extended Evaluation and the Registry Services Evaluation Process (with no guarantee of success, of course).

So far, Google is the only high-profile new gTLD applicant to say it wants a dotless domain. It wants to turn .search into such a service and expects to make a request for it via RSEP.

Other portfolio applicants, such as Donuts and Uniregistry, have also said they’re in favor of dotless gTLDs.

Given the breadth of the potential problems identified by Carve, you might expect a recommendation that dotless domains should be banned outright. But that didn’t happen.

Instead, the company has recommended that only certain strings likely to have a huge impact on many internet users — such as “mail” and “local” — be permanently prohibited as dotless TLDs.

It also recommends lots of ways ICANN could allow dotless domains and mitigate the risk. For example, it suggests massive educational outreach to hardware and software vendors and to end users.

Establish guidelines for software and hardware manufacturers to follow when selecting default dotless names for use on private networks. These organizations should use names from a restricted set of dotless domain names that will never be allowed on the public Internet.

Given that most people have never heard of ICANN, that internet standards generally take a long time to adopt, and allowing for regular hardware upgrade cycles, I couldn’t see ICANN pulling off such a feat for at least five to 10 years.

I can’t see ICANN approving any dotless domains any time soon, but it does appear to have wiggle-room in future. ICANN said:

The ICANN Board New gTLD Program Committee (NGPC) will consider dotless domain names and an appropriate risk mitigation approach at its upcoming meeting in August.

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Uniregistry not happy about Donuts-Tucows deal

Kevin Murphy, August 5, 2013, Domain Registries

Uniregistry would never have withdrawn its applications for .media and .marketing if it had known that Tucows would later take money from Donuts to also withdraw, according to CEO Frank Schilling.

Schilling told DI tonight that Uniregistry had pulled out of both new gTLD contention sets after having made a deal with Tucows, the details of which he was unable to explain due to a non-disclosure agreement.

But he said that the deal would never have happened if he’d known the eventual outcome.

“Tucows left us under the impression that they were going to win this and had I known that they would fold in a subsequent private auction I would not have done this,” he said.

Tucows withdrew its bids for .media and .marketing weeks after Uniregistry, after making its own deal with Donuts, which is now the sole remaining applicant for the two strings.

As reported earlier today, Tucows and Donuts settled the two contention sets with a “cut and choose” arrangement, where Tucows named the price at which it was willing to withdraw and Donuts could choose to buy its withdrawals or sell its own withdrawals for the same price.

Donuts characterized the deal as a kind of private auction.

Uniregistry is on record as saying it doesn’t like the idea of private auctions, which it believes may fall foul of US antitrust law.

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Donuts says Tucows deal “just another type of private auction”

Kevin Murphy, August 5, 2013, Domain Registries

Donuts has confirmed that it paid Tucows for the rights to the .media and .marketing new gTLDs, but says it was actually “just another type of private auction”.

The existence of a deal for the two strings emerged in a tongue-in-cheek Tucows video on Friday.

I blogged over the weekend that it was the first example I was aware of of Donuts settling a contention set outside of the private auction process it helped kick-start with Innovative Auctions.

But in a statement sent to DI today, Donuts characterized the Tucows deal as auction-like, saying:

Contention was resolved privately between the two applicants by a “cut and choose” method, whereby Tucows named a price at which it would withdraw its applications, and Donuts would decide either to “buy” or “sell” the position as sole remaining applicant.

Donuts elected to pay Tucows its stated price, and Donuts will continue as the sole applicant and exclusive operator for both TLDs, with no joint venture or revenue sharing agreement with any party.

Donuts remains strongly committed to private auctions as the preferred method of resolving contention for its applications and this was just another type of private auction.

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NTIA alarmed as Verisign hints that it will not delegate new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, August 5, 2013, Domain Tech

Verisign has escalated its war against competition by telling its government masters that it is not ready to add new gTLDs to the DNS root, raising eyebrows at NTIA.

The company told the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration in late May that the lack of uniform monitoring across the 13 root servers means it would put internet security and stability at risk to start delegating new gTLDs now.

In response, the NTIA told Verisign that its recent position on DNS security is “troubling”. It demanded confirmation that Verisign is not planning to block new gTLDs from being delegated.

The letters (pdf and pdf) were published by ICANN over the weekend, over two months after the first was sent.

Verisign senior VP Pat Kane wrote in the May letter:

we strongly believe certain issues have not been addressed and must be addressed before any root zone managers, including Verisign, are ready to implement the new gTLD Program.

We want to be clearly on record as reporting out this critical information to NTIA unequivocally as we believe a complete assessment of the critical issues remain unaddressed which left unremediated could jeopardize the security and stability of the DNS.

we strongly recommend that the previous advice related to this topic be implemented and the capability for root server system monitoring, instrumentation, and management capabilities be developed and operationalized prior to beginning delegations.

Kane’s concerns were first outlined by Verisign in its March 2013 open letter to ICANN, which also expressed serious worries about issues such as internal name collisions.

Verisign is so far the only root server operator to publicly express concerns about the lacking of coordinated monitoring, and many people believe that the company is simply desperately trying to delay competition for its $800 million .com business for as long as possible.

These people note that in early November 2012, Verisign signed a joint letter with ICANN and NTIA that said:

the Root Zone Partners are able to process at least 100 new TLDs per week and will commit the necessary resources to meet all root zone management volume increases associated with the new gTLD program

That letter was signed before NTIA stripped Verisign of its right to increase .com prices every year, depriving it of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of additional revenue.

Some say that Verisign is raising spurious security concerns now purely because it’s worried about its bottom line.

NTIA is beginning to sound like one of these critics. In its response to the May 30 letter, sent by NTIA and published by ICANN on Saturday, deputy associate administrator Vernita Harris wrote:

NTIA and VeriSign have historically had a strong working relationship, but inconsistencies in VeriSign’s position in recent months are troubling… NTIA fully expects VeriSign to process change requests when it receives an authorization to delegate a new gTLD. So that there will be no doubt on this point, please provide me a written confirmation no later than August 16, 2013 that VeriSign will process change requests for the new gTLD program when authorized to delegate a new gTLD.

Harris said that a system is already in place that would allow the emergency rollback of the root zone, basically ‘un-delegating’ any gTLD that proves to cause a security or stability problem.

This would be “sufficient for the delegation of new gTLDs”, she wrote.

Could Verisign block new gTLDs?

It’s worth a reminder at this point that ICANN’s power over the DNS root is something of a facade.

Verisign, as operator of the master A root server, holds the technical keys to the kingdom. Under its NTIA contract, it only processes changes to the root — such as adding a TLD — when NTIA tells it to.

NTIA in practice merely passes on the recommendations of IANA, the department within ICANN that has the power to ask for changes to the root zone, also under contract with NTIA.

Verisign or NTIA in theory could refuse to delegate new gTLDs — recall that when .xxx was heading to the root the European Union asked NTIA to delay the delegation.

In practice, it seems unlikely that either party would stand in the way of new gTLDs at the root, but the Verisign rhetoric in recent months suggests that it is in no mood to play nicely.

To refuse to delegate gTLDs out of commercial best interests would be seen as irresponsible, however, and would likely put its role as custodian of the root at risk.

That said, if Verisign turns out to be the lone voice of sanity when it comes to DNS security, it is ICANN and NTIA that will ultimately look like they’re the irresponsible parties.

What’s next?

Verisign now has until August 16 to confirm that it will not make trouble. I expect it to do so under protest.

According to the NTIA, ICANN’s Root Server Stability Advisory Committee is currently working on two documents — RSSAC001 and RSSAC002 — that will outline “the parameters of the basis of an early warning system” that will address Verisign’s concerns about root server management.

These documents are likely to be published within weeks, according to the NTIA letter.

Meanwhile, we’re also waiting for the publication of Interisle Consulting’s independent report into the internal name collision issue, which is expected to recommend that gTLDs such as .corp and .home are put on hold. I’m expecting this to be published any day now.

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Spoof video reveals Donuts paid Tucows for two gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, August 3, 2013, Domain Registries

This has to be the strangest way to announce a new gTLD partnership to date.

Judging by a spoof video uploaded to YouTube yesterday, Tucows withdrew its applications for the .media and .marketing new gTLDs after receiving a pay-off from rival applicant Donuts.

Presented as “the hotly contested .media and .marketing gTLD bout” between Tucows CEO Elliot Noss and Donuts co-founder Jon Nevett, the video humorously documents the negotiation process.

If you don’t have four minutes to spare, or if awkward office-based spoof videos make you want to beat yourself to death with a bright red stapler, here’s the money shot:

Noss v Nevett

While I’ve not yet received confirmation that the video is based on true events (it’s Saturday), the facts all fit.

Tucows withdrew both its .media and .marketing applications around July 26, according to the DI PRO new gTLD timeline, giving Donuts a clear run at delegation.

Uniregistry was the only other applicant in both contention sets, but withdrew its applications for .media and .marketing July 19 and June 21 respectively.

There’s nothing in the video to suggest that Uniregistry made a similar deal, but it seems likely.

It’s the first example I’m aware of of Donuts settling a contention set outside of the private auction process.

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Clean sweep for gTLD applicants as 91 pass

Kevin Murphy, August 2, 2013, Domain Registries

Ninety-one new gTLD applications passed Initial Evaluation this week, as ICANN enters the final month of results.

There were no failures to report. The following strings, with links to the relevant applicant on DI PRO, achieved passing scores:

.staples .gmo .hot .organic .degree .quebec .ricoh .guardian .hiphop .llp .ram .ieee .kpmg .obi .game .style .blackfriday .vlaanderen .tennis .baseball .afl .android .restaurant .sca .llc .rich .porn .gay .data .ink .nec .mzansimagic .moto .map .gap .zero .aarp .football .loans .schwarz .flsmidth .box .cloud .expert .stream .store .tunes .shopping .gmx .scot .tmall .dentist .live .app .tools .hair .ggee .bing .loans .video .golf .free .exposed .world .kerrylogisitics .llc .broker .coupons .eco .news .video .store .flights .comsec .inc .app .tours .abarth .edeka .locker .star .events .page .rent .financialaid .family .services .studio .honda .buy .click

There are now 1,377, passing applications and just 14 that are headed to Extended Evaluation.

With just 438 remaining in IE, ICANN remains on track to clean up the bulk of the process by the end of August as promised.

I expect there will be stragglers that do not receive their results until after the initial timeline is over, however, due to delays answering clarifying questions and such.

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That’s all folks, no more LRO news

Kevin Murphy, August 2, 2013, Domain Policy

The results of Legal Rights Objections against new gTLD applications are no longer news.

That’s the decision handed down by the editor here at DI’s Global World International Headquarters today.

“Hey, Keith,” she barked from her ermine-carpeted corner office. “This LRO stuff is getting a bit old, don’t you think?”

“My name’s Kevin,” I said.

“Whatever,” she said. “LRO is now dog-bites-man. I decree it thus. No more of it, understand? Write more about Go Daddy girls.”

She has a point (she’s a great editor and I love her dearly).

The Legal Rights Objection has, I think, said pretty much everything it’s going to say in this new gTLD application round. I’m feeling pretty confident we can predict that all outstanding LROs will fail.

This prediction is based largely on the fact that the 69 LROs filed in this round all pretty much fall into three categories.

  • Front-running. These are the cases where the objector is an applicant that secured a trademark on its chosen gTLD string, usually with the dot, just in order to game the LRO process. These have all been rejected so far. I thought Constantine Roussos’ .music objection was the only one with a sliver of a chance; now that it’s been rejected I think the chances of any outstanding objections of this type prevailing are zero.
  • Brand v Brand. The objector may or may not be an applicant too, but both it and the respondent both own legit trademarks on the string in question. WIPO’s LRO panelists have made it clear, most recently yesterday in Merck v Merck (pdf) and Merck v Merck (pdf), that having a famous brand does not give you the right to block somebody else from owning a matching famous brand as a gTLD.
  • Generic trademarks. Cases where an owner of a legit brand that matches a dictionary word files an objection against an applicant for the same string that proposes to use it in its generic sense. See Express v Donuts, for example. Panelists have found that unless there’s some nefarious intent by the applicant, the mandatory second-level rights protection mechanisms new gTLD registries must abide by are sufficient to protect trademark rights. As I don’t believe any applicants have a nefarious intent, I don’t believe any of these LROs will succeed.

In short, the LRO may be one of many deterrents to top-level cybersquatting, but has proven itself an essentially useless cash sink if you want to prevent the use of a trademark at the top level.

The impact of this, I believe, will be to give new gTLD consultants another excellent reason to push defensive gTLD applications on big brands in future new gTLD rounds.

Whether it will inspire unsavory types to apply for generic terms in future, in order to extort money from matching brands, will depend to a large extent on whether applicants in this round wind up making lucrative deals with the brands they’re competing against.

In any event, it seems certain that the LRO-to-application ratio will be far lower in future rounds.

DI will of course continue to peruse each new LRO as it is published and will report on any genuinely interesting developments, but we will not cover each decision as a matter of course.

Decisions are published by WIPO daily here and email notifications are sent along with WIPO’s daily UDRP newsletter.

Information about Go Daddy girls can, from now on, be found here.

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Tucows and TLDH buddy up on three gTLD auctions

Kevin Murphy, August 2, 2013, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings and Tucows have made a complex deal on new gTLD applications for .store, .tech and .group.

The partnership will see TLDH take a majority stake in .group, which it hasn’t also applied for, while Tucows will take minority interests in .tech and .store, which it in turn has not also applied for.

All three strings are heading to auction, with four applicants for .group, five for .tech, and six for .store.

How much each company owns of each registry will depend on how much they contribute to a winning auction bid.

TLDH CEO Antony Van Couvering said in a press release:

By combining our financial resources on these three domains not only are our chances of success improved in the auction round, but TLDH has the opportunity to acquire an interest in an additional top-level domain, .GROUP.

Tucows already plans to use TLDH subsidiary Minds + Machines as the registry back-end for the five new gTLDs it has applied for.

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ICANN to crack down on UDRP “cyberflight”

Kevin Murphy, August 2, 2013, Domain Registrars

ICANN has moved closer to cracking down on cybersquatters who try to flip their domains when they discover they’ve been hit with a UDRP complaint.

Under recommendations approved by the GNSO Council yesterday, registrars would be bound by a much stricter set of UDRP-related domain locking rules in future.

So-called “cyberflight” — where squatters transfer their domains to a new registrar or registrants — appears to be a relatively infrequent problem, but when it does happen it causes big headaches for UDRP providers and trademark owners.

A survey of UDRP providers carried out as part of the GNSO’s policy development process discovered that the vast majority of registrars already lock domains hit by UDRP.

The problem is, they said, that locking practices are not uniform. Some registrars take well over a week to lock domains, and what the “lock” entails differs by registrar.

The recommendations of the GNSO’s Final Report on the Locking of a Domain Name Subject to UDRP Proceedings Policy Development Process, adopted by the Council yesterday, seek to standardize the process.

After being told about a complaint against one of its domains, the registrar in future would have a maximum of two business days to put a lock — preventing any changes in registrant or registrar — in place.

The lock would remain until the UDRP was resolved, but there would be various safeguards in place to enable complainants and respondents to settle their differences outside of the UDRP.

The lock would not prevent registrars or proxy/privacy services revealing the true identity of the registrant — that wouldn’t count as a change of registrant.

To prevent registrants abusing the two-day window to sell their domains or switch registrars, they would not be told about the existence of the UDRP until the domain had been locked.

The UDRP rules currently require the complainant to send a copy of their complaint to the domain owner at the same time it is filed with the UDRP provider.

But the GNSO has now recommended getting rid of this rule, stating: “as a best practice, complainants need not inform respondents that a complaint has been filed to avoid cyberflight.”

The registrant would be informed later by the UDRP provider instead.

Registrars would be prohibited from tipping off the registrant until the lock was in place.

The July 2013 recommendations (pdf) came out of a working group that was formed in April 2012, in response to policy ideas floated in 2011.

The GNSO’s resolution calls for ICANN staff to work with members of the working group on an implementation plan, which would eventually be put to the ICANN board for approval.

Once through the board, the new policy would become binding on all ICANN-accredited registrars.

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