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Australia likely to BAN domaining

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2019, Domain Registries

Domain investors will soon be no longer welcome in Australia’s .au, if proposed policy changes are approved.

Registrants who own more than 100 names and cannot prove they’re not a domainer will have their names deleted, under the recommendations of an Policy Review Panel appointed by Aussie ccTLD registry auDA this week.

The practice of vacuuming up domains for resale has long been against auDA policy, but the rules have been perceived as weak, easily worked around, and have been rarely enforced.

The current policy states: “A registrant may not register a domain name for the sole purpose of resale or transfer to another entity.”

But domainers have successfully argued that by parking their speculative domains, resale is no longer the “sole” purpose of the registration.

That loophole would be closed under the PRP’s recommendations. If approved by auDA, the rule would be changed to:

A registrant is prohibited from registering any open 2LD domain name for the primary purpose of (a) resale, (b) transfer to another entity, or (c) warehousing.

The PRP noted that it had received input “that registering domain names for resale increases the cost of doing business, increases the scarcity of names, and that registering domain names for the purpose of resale adds no real value to the internet name space.”

Registrants with 100-strong portfolios of “acronyms, dictionary words, or common phrases” would be singled out for review, as would registrants who are seen to engage in the resale of their domains.

Registrants who have “solicited the sale of the domain name or offered the domain name for sale to another for valuable consideration in excess of documented out-of-pocket costs” or who have sold more than six domains in six months, would also be presumed domainers.

Being found to be “warehousing”, domainers would no longer be eligible to their names.

They’d need to show “clear and convincing evidence” that the domain in question was not registered for resale in order to keep their names.

It’s a fairly comprehensive ban on domaining, in other words.

While there may well be workarounds — such as owning matching trademarks or selling shell companies rather than merely the domains — I can’t think of any that would wouldn’t be overly burdensome or costly in the vast majority of cases.

The PRP has also recommended the introduction of opening up .au to direct, second-level registrations, much like the UK, New Zealand and others have over the last several years.

Domainers also hate this, as it could dilute the value of their investments.

The PRP’s final report is now open for public comment until April 12.

After receiving these comments, auDA expects its board to provide a response April 15, which itself will be open for public comment until May 10.

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Root servers whacked after crypto change

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2019, Domain Tech

The DNS root servers came under accidental attack from name servers across the internet following ICANN’s recent changes to their cryptographic master keys, according to Verisign.

The company, which runs the A and J root servers, said it saw requests for DNSSEC data at the root increase from 15 million a day in October to 1.15 billion a day a week ago.

The cause was the October 11 root Key Signing Key rollover, the first change ICANN had made to the “trust anchor” of DNSSEC since it came online at the root in 2010.

The KSK rollover saw ICANN change the cryptographic keys that rest at the very top of the DNSSEC hierarchy.

The move was controversial. ICANN delayed it for a year after learning about possible disruption at internet endpoints. Its Security and Stability Advisory Committee and even its own board were not unanimous that the roll should go ahead.

But the warnings were largely about the impact on internet users, rather than on the root servers themselves, and the impact was minimal.

Verisign is now saying that requests to its roots for DNSSEC key data increased from 15 million per day to 75 million per day, a five-fold increase, almost overnight.

It was not until January, when the old KSK was marked as “revoked”, did the seriously mahooosive traffic growth begin, however. Verisign’s distinguished engineer Duane Wessels wrote:

Everyone involved expected this to be a non-event. However, we instead saw an even bigger increase in DNSKEY queries coming from a population of root server clients. As of March 21, 2019, Verisign’s root name servers receive about 1.15 billion DNSKEY queries per day, which is 75 times higher than pre-rollover levels and nearly 7 percent of our total steady state query traffic.

Worryingly, the traffic only seemed to be increasing, until March 22, when the revoked key was removed from the root entirely.

Wessels wrote that while the root operators are still investigating, “it would seem that the presence of the revoked key in the zone triggered some unexpected behavior in a population of validating resolvers.”

The root operators hope to have answers in the coming weeks, he wrote.

The next KSK rollover is not expected for years, and the root traffic is now returning to normal levels, so there’s no urgency.

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XYZ weighs into Epik controversy with .monster fundraising domain

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2019, Domain Registries

New gTLD registry XYZ.com has set up a domain to help raise money for victims of the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand last week.

The domain is give.monster. It redirects to a page on Givealittle.co.nz, a Kiwi crowdfunding site, that has so far raised almost NZD 7.8 million ($5.3 million) for the victims of the attack, which killed 50 and injured many more last Friday.

Given the amount of coverage in the New Zealand press, it appears that the fundraising page is legit.

The domain is obviously a reference to Epik.com CEO Rob Monster, who has come in for criticism this week for hosting and sharing the terrorist’s video of the attack, and then suggesting it might be a hoax, as I blogged earlier today.

XYZ is able to create this domain because it is the registry for .monster, a gTLD it acquired last year that is currently slap-bang in the middle of its early access launch period.

Whois records show that the domain was created a little over an hour ago and belongs to XYZ.com LLC.

I learned about it through this comment on DI:

We are sorry to see this in our industry… Please visit http://www.Give.Monster and donate to support victims of the horrific Christchurch shootings. Thank you for your support.

XYZ.com is the registry for .xyz, .college, .rent and other gTLDs. .monster previously belonged to recruitment web site Monster.com.

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After NZ shooting, Epik has a Monster PR problem

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2019, Domain Registrars

Domain name registrar Epik.com has come under fire from prominent domain investors and others after CEO Rob Monster suggested that video of the recent mosque shootings in New Zealand, which he hosted on an Epik service and shared on social media, was a hoax.

Domainer-bloggers including Shane Cultra, Konstantinos Zournas, and DNPlaybook.com have questioned Monster’s decision, and one of his own senior staffers, former DomainNameWire contributor Joseph Peterson, took to a domainer forum to in parts criticize and defend his boss.

Cultra was particularly harsh in his criticism this week, calling for domainers to move their domains out of Epik and for his friend, Epik director Braden Pollock, to remove himself from the board.

He wrote: “I would like to think that any respectable domain investor remove their domains from Epik… Rob Monster’s agenda has no place in our industry”.

DNPlaybook wrote that Monster has become “Facilitator of Hate and Promoter of Conspiracies”.

Other domainers have written that they have removed, or will remove, their domains from Epik, though Monster wrote earlier this week that the impact on its business so far has been minimal.

Epik is an ICANN-accredited registrar with about 400,000 gTLD names under management at the last count. It’s almost doubled in size over the last two years.

The company and its CEO have been subject to criticism for months over their decision to provide services to web sites that enable the promotion of far-right ideologies such as white supremacism and Nazism.

But the latest row kicked off on March 15, when Monster used his personal Twitter account to share a link to the self-shot, first-person video of one of the terrorist attacks at a mosque in Christchurch.

Fifty people, all Muslims attending Friday prayers or in the vicinity of the mosques, were killed by the same person during the attacks.

The first attack was live-streamed on Facebook from a head-mounted camera. Apparently viewed live by fewer than 200 people, copies were nevertheless widely circulated on social media and elsewhere.

The copy of the video linked to by Monster was hosted by Epik-owned privacy services provider Anonymize.com, on an “effectively uncensorable” file-sharing service the company is currently developing.

In a subsequent tweet, Monster threw doubt upon whether the footage was real, writing: “Shell casings simply vanish into thin air. Etc. It looks like low budget CGI”.

Anyone with a grain of common sense who has seen the video will tell you that Monster is clearly talking absolute bollocks here. It’s not a fake.

Monster’s Twitter account has since been deleted. According to Peterson, Epik’s director of operations, Monster deleted it himself. Reading between the lines, it appears he was pressured to do so by his staff, including Peterson.

Monster has not yet deleted — and is in fact still actively using — his @epik account on Gab.com, the Twitter clone often used by far-right activists who have been banned from or choose not to use Twitter due to their views.

A March 15 post on Gab by Monster links to a copy of the Christchurch killer’s rambling “manifesto”, again hosted on anonymize.com. This link is still live, but I’ve redacted it in the screen-cap below, which shows Monster effectively using the manifesto to promote the forthcoming Anonymize service.

Monster on Gab

I’ve been unable to confirm whether Epik is still hosting the video of the attack, though there are reports that it was taken down a matter of hours after posting. (UPDATE 1816 UTC: the video is in fact still live on the Anonymize service).

Epik and Monster drew attention last November when Monster publicly offered to become the registrar for Gab.com, after the domain was suspended by GoDaddy.

Monster at the time said the move was to protect freedom of speech online.

Epik again attracted attention last month when it acquired BitMitigate, a denial-of-service protection startup which has been providing services to unapologetic Nazi propaganda site The Daily Stormer since August 2017, when Cloudflare told the site to GTFO.

It’s also taken on the domain business of video hosting site BitChute, which is often used as a refuge for political vloggers (including some on the far right) who have been demonetized or banned by YouTube.

For these reasons, in January Epik attracted the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an anti-racist group based in the US. The SPLC wrote that “Epik is cornering the market on websites where hate speech is thriving”.

The post, and other news reports, strongly hint that Monster’s own political views might be more aligned with those of his customers than he cares to admit.

Monster naturally rebuts these suggestions, calling the SPLC post “highly defamatory and inaccurate”. In one of his most recent posts on Namepros, before his staff asked him to back away from the public square for a while, he wrote:

As for those members of the domain community who have taken the opportunity this week to rebuke me for allowing free speech to continue on the Internet, please know that I am neither seeking publicity or controversy. I am of sound mind. I am not a Nazi, an anti-semite, a homophobe, a misogynist, a bigot, or a racist. I believe love and understanding will overcome hate and divisiveness.

The future of the domain industry is being determined in 2019. Censorship, WHOIS privacy, sinkholing, DDoS, deplatforming, demonetization, unpersoning, are all symptoms of the disease which is a relentless desire by the few to dictate the narratives and choices to be consumed by the many.

Peterson has also denied that his boss harbors secret extremist views, in a series of lengthy, nuanced posts (starting here) on Namepros this week.

He writes that Monster has a “weird conspiratorial streak” and a natural inclination to believe in “false flag” conspiracy theories. He doubts the official story on 9/11 and believes the moon landings were faked, Peterson said. Monster is also a “Bible-believing Christian”, according to his Gab profile.

Peterson also writes that a significant portion of Epik’s employees, including some in important roles, are Muslims. He writes that he was “appalled” by Monster’s decision to post the video, but added:

But to infer that he did this because he hates muslims and condones murder is not just simplistic; it is LUDICROUS. One person murders 30+ muslims. The other person hires them and works with them closely on a daily basis. To equate these 2 is simply wrong. Whatever the reasons Rob felt it necessary to re-publish a link to content others had decided to censor, hatred of muslims was NOT the reason.

He goes on to say:

I object to Epik — the team I work with and the customers we look after — being portrayed falsely as some epicenter of “hate speech” or the alt right. We are not. We are a domain registrar and marketplace with a wide range of services. We are a company whose boss has taken controversial (and in some ways courageous) steps to protect free speech. Unfortunately, that same boss has stepped on that message with some very bad PR moves. When Rob does that, it irritates me to the point of exasperation. And I tell him so.

According to Peterson, Monster and his wife came under attack last year with a leafleting campaign in his local neighborhood, denouncing him as a Nazi.

He suspects this kind of behavior may have caused his boss to “double-down” on exactly the same kinds of activities that invited the controversy in the first place.

Whatever the reason, Epik certainly has got a PR problem on its hands right now.

I doubt this is the last we’ll hear of it.

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Another dot-brand bites the dust

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2019, Domain Registries

Honeywell International, a $40-billion-a-year US conglomerate, has become the last major company to dump its dot-brand gTLD.

The company informed ICANN in February that it no longer wishes to run .honeywell, and ICANN yesterday published its preliminary decision not to transition the TLD to a new owner.

Honeywell never used .honeywell, which has been in the DNS root since June 2016, beyond the contractually mandated placeholder at nic.honeywell.

It becomes the 46th new gTLD registry to request a termination since 2015. Almost all have been dot-brands.

The company’s request is open for public comment until April 14. To date, there have been no public comments on any voluntary registry termination.

Honeywell is involved in the aerospace, building and consumer goods sectors. It has 130,000 employees and reported revenue of $40.5 billion for 2018.

It’s the first new gTLD termination request of 2019.

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