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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.

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1,000th new gTLD goes live

The 1,000th new gTLD from the 2012 application round was delegated yesterday.

It was either .shop or .realestate, appropriately enough, which both appear to have been added to the DNS root zone at about the same time.

Right now, there are actually only 999 new gTLDs live in the DNS. That’s because the unwanted .doosan was retired in February.

During its pre-launch planning for the new gTLD program, ICANN based its root zone stability planning on the assumption that fewer than 1,000 TLDs would be added to the root per year.

In reality, it’s taken much longer to reach that threshold. The first few new gTLDs were added in late October 2013, 945 days ago.

On average, in other words, a new gTLD has been added to the root slightly more than once per day.

Over that same period, nine ccTLDs — internationalized domain names applied for via a separate ICANN program — have also gone live.

The 1,000th new gTLD to be added to the IANA database was .blog.

There are 1,314 TLDs in the root all told.

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M+M makes $3.2 million in five days from .vip

Minds + Machines has billed $3.2 million in .vip domain names sales after the first five days of operation, the company said this morning.

It’s already managed to pay off the cost of acquiring the domain at the September 2014 auction, which was $3.1 million.

Between 1600 UTC May 17, when .vip went to general availability, and the same time May 22, the gTLD racked up 203,720 domains, the company said.

The $3.2 million is a “billings” number, which will convert to accounting revenue over the lifetime of the domains.

For comparison, billings in the whole of 2015 was $7.9 million.

M+M now has over half a million domains under management, a 64% increase from the start of the year, the company said.

Registrations from China, where presumably owning a .vip name does not make you look like a douchebag, accounted for over 80% of the registrations. Almost half of its registrars are Chinese.

Major Chinese registrars are currently selling .vip names for CNY 25-26 (about $4) apiece.

The discrepancy between that low price and the $3.2 million (which implies an average wholesale price of about $16) is due to the effects of premiums, sunrise and multi-year registrations, CEO Toby Hall told DI.

M+M, like the vast majority of TLD registries, is not currently licensed in China, so these names will not legally be allowed to be developed into sites until the company has gone through the full governmental approval process.

Hall said in a press release:

The Chinese market for top-level domains is real and we are delighted to have accessed this key region through the .vip launch… It is a major milestone for the Company, the new management team and our business model centred on working with best-in-class partners across every aspect of our business so as to best monetize our assets while maintaining a tight control on central overheads. It demonstrates that, when properly executed, how quickly the initial investment costs for a domain can be recovered and the potential for a strong recurring revenue established. The .vip launch equally illustrates how as a b2b business we do not have to burn funds on marketing to reach end-consumers and achieve outstanding results.

He’s referring there primarily to M+M’s ongoing restructuring, which has seen the company ditch its registrar business in favor of a more heavily channel-focused approach.

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SpamHaus now publishing better TLD abuse data

SpamHaus has updated its “10 Most Abused Top Level Domains” list to provide a much more useful insight into abuse levels.

Rather than simply showing unexplained percentages of “badness” in each TLD, the spam-fighting organization’s daily report now exposes the hard numbers, in domain terms, underneath.

For example, on today’s list Famous Four Media’s .download is the most-abused TLD with 82% bad domains.

That percentage is based on SpamHaus categorizing 11,431 domains as abusive of the 13,945 .download domains that crossed its systems.

But the gTLD has 67,500 domains in its zone file, so the actual percentage of abusive domains could be as low as about 17%, much lower than SpamHaus’s 82%.

Whether you think the 82% metric is fair will depend on whether you think SpamHaus’s sample — about 20% of the full .download zone — is representative.

Some of the other TLDs on its list have even smaller sample sizes.

Minds + Machines’ .work is ranked #2 on the SpamHaus list with 73.3% badness, based on a SpamHaus-seen sample of 6,297 domains, something like 7% of the full .work zone.

Registries criticized SpamHaus for publishing misleading data when this list was first published in March, and I agreed with them.

Now that the group is publishing empirical data alongside its percentages, the conversation can now shift to something along the lines of:

“Is it okay that at least 17% of .download domains are abusive?”

To which the answer I believe is a clear: “Hell, no.”

The SpamHaus daily report can be found here.

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ICANN to publish board meeting transcripts

Kevin Murphy, May 20, 2016, Domain Policy

In a surprising move towards further transparency, the ICANN board of directors has decided to start publishing transcripts and possibly recordings of its meetings.

It passed a resolution during a meeting in Amsterdam this week stating:

the Board directs the President and CEO, or his designee(s), to work with the Board to develop a proposed plan for the publication of transcripts and/or recordings of Board deliberative sessions, with such plan to include an assessment of possible resources costs and fiscal impact, and draft processes to: (i) ensure the accuracy of the transcript; and (ii) for redaction of portions of the transcript that should be maintained as confidential or privileged.

Transcription services can be picked up dirt cheap, so I can’t see money getting in the way of this proposal becoming a reality.

A question mark of course hangs over the “confidential or privileged” carve-out, of course. ICANN is sometimes over-generous with what it considers redactable material.

Still, it’s great news for the ICANN community, which has been calling for greater board transparency for years.

When I started covering ICANN back in 1999, board sessions at the then four-times-a-year public meetings were conducted in the open; all the thinking was done aloud.

At some point in the early 2000s that stopped, however, and the board’s public sessions became a case of rubber-stamping resolutions that had already been debated behind closed doors.

Minutes, staff-prepared briefing materials and broad-stroke narrative reports have been published, but they give limited insight into the depth of the discussions.

Chair Steve Crocker has even stated in recent years that its goal was to make these public sessions “as boring as possible”.

That’s obviously no good for those of us who’d like to know how top-level decisions at ICANN actually get made.

The plan is for new CEO Goran Marby, who starts on Monday, to come up with a proposal before the Helsinki meeting next month, with a view to start publishing transcripts not long thereafter

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