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153 registrars fingered for ICANN security probe

Kevin Murphy, January 18, 2021, Domain Registrars

Registrars will be asked to account for abusive domain names found on their services, under a new ICANN security audit.

ICANN says it will soon send requests for information to 153 registrars, asking them to provide documentation showing how they dealt with domains used for distribution of malware or spam.

Registrars will get audited if more than five domains under their sponsorship showed up on a number of block-lists ICANN uses (SpamHaus and the like) during November 2020.

ICANN is spinning the number of affected registrars as a very small percentage of the accredited base, but it really isn’t.

It said that “only” 153 out of 2,380 accredited registrars are affected, apparently willfully ignoring the fact that well over 1,700 of these registrars are shell accreditations used for drop-catching and belonging to just two companies: Web.com and NameBright.

Domains never stick around at drop-catch shells for long, and abusive registrants typically aren’t buying expensive names on the aftermarket, they’re prowling the budget registrars for sub-dollar bargains and bulk-reg tools.

Up to a couple hundred or other accredited registrars have no or negligible domains under management. Several more are corporate registrars with no retail front-end.

So we’re really looking at “only” 153 out of 500 to 600 active retail registrars that saw the required level of abuse, a much higher percentage than would be ideal.

The audit is part of ICANN’s regular Contractual Compliance Audit Program, which seeks to determine whether any registrars or registries are in breach of their contractual obligations.

Under the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement, registrars are obliged to document their responses to abuse reports, keep the data for two years, and hand it over to ICANN on demand.

ICANN hopes to finish the audit by the third quarter this year.

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ICANN axes Cancun again. Apparently there’s a pandemic

Kevin Murphy, January 18, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN has formally confirmed that its seventieth public meeting will be online-only, disappointing restaurateurs and sex workers in Cancun, Mexico for the second year running.

The meeting will also be mercifully shorter, with two days cut from its running time. The new dates are March 22 to March 25. Thankfully, ICANN actually announced the date change this time around.

ICANN top brass had indicated as far back as October that Cancun was very unlikely to go ahead as an in-person meeting.

It will be the fourth consecutive meeting to be held via Zoom since the coronavirus pandemic began a year ago. My guess is it won’t be the last.

The next meeting this year is slated to take place in The Hague in late June, but I think only an strident optimist or denialist could imagine that actually happening.

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Gun nut site crashes at Epik after GoDaddy shoots it down

Kevin Murphy, January 18, 2021, Domain Registrars

A site for American gun enthusiasts has switched registrars, moving its domain to Epik — apparently with the consent of CEO Rob Monster — after GoDaddy turfed it out for allegedly inciting violence.

According to a GoDaddy statement at the weekend, the registrar had received complaints about content on AR15.com — that’s the name of a gun popular with spree killers — and determined it “incited violence”.

It informed the domain’s owner the same day, January 8, two days after the Capitol Hill riots, giving him 24 hours to remove the offending content.

It’s not clear what the content in question was, but given the timing and the fact that the site is a scarily popular forum with largely user-generated content, it’s not difficult to imagine.

AR15.com’s owner, identified in a video as GoatBoy, claims that by the time he received the email from GoDaddy, the forum’s moderators had already removed the posts on the grounds that the site also has a policy against incitement to violence.

But GoDaddy disagrees, saying the content could still be found after its supposed removal. It took down the domain on January 11. It said in a statement:

We do not take action on complaints that would constitute censorship of content that represents the exercise of freedom of speech and expression on the Internet. In instances where a site goes beyond the mere exercise of these freedoms, however, and crosses over to promoting, encouraging, or otherwise engaging in violence, as was the case with AR15.com, we will take action.

The AR15.com domain is now hosted by Epik, which has in recent years made a name for itself as a refuge for sites frequented by those with far-right views, such as 8chan, Gab and Parler.

GoatBoy says in the video embedded below: “I had the privilege of speaking with some of the guys on the executive staff, including the owner of Epik. Their views really align well with ours. They’re very pro First Amendment and very pro Second Amendment.”

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It’s pandemic continuity versus gender diversity in ICANN’s board wish-list

Kevin Murphy, January 13, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Nominating Committee will be asked to pit two fundamentally opposed principles against each other when they pick three members of the organization’s board of directors this year.

Board chair Maarten Botterman has asked NomCom to prioritize continuity — keeping experienced directors in place — while also increasing gender diversity in the male-heavy current line-up.

Botterman this week sent a letter (pdf) to NomCom chair Ole Jacobsen, offering guidance virtually identical to that found in a December 2019 letter (pdf) to his predecessor.

The two most significant changes concern the impact on the board’s work of the coronavirus pandemic.

Noting that it typically takes a year or two for new directors to learn the ropes, and that it’s useful to have a staggered mix of tenures among the board, Botterman goes on to say:

Continuity is particularly important this year given the recent departure of the Board’s longest-serving, term- limited member and the ongoing challenges arising from the pandemic, including uncertainties about when the full Board may be next able to move from its current remote schedule to in-person meetings.

The long-serving member who left was presumably Chris Disspain, certainly one of the most active directors in recent years.

Later, Botterman’s letter contains an entirely new paragraph explaining what a time vampire ICANN directorship can be:

We underscore the significant time commitment required of Board members. Applicants must be able to devote weeks and long hours throughout the year to Board service, and even more because of the challenges caused by the pandemic. Among many other key initiatives, one focus in the upcoming year will be understanding and evaluating the expected recommendations from the policy development process on Subsequent Procedures regarding the next round of new gTLDs (as well as implementation of several Board-approved recommendations from community groups).

That, at least, should provide some comfort to those champing at the bit to get the next round of new gTLDs up and running — ICANN clearly expects it to happen at some point in the next four years.

So there’s a definite, newly emphasized focus on continuity at ICANN.

That’s good news for Lito Ibarra, Danko Jevtović and Tripti Sinha, the three NomCom appointees whose current terms end this coming October. Ibarra is on his second three-year term, the other two on their first. All are eligible for reselection.

The Botterman letter is less encouraging for Ibarra and Jevtović, who are men. ICANN is still seeking to increase gender diversity on its board, which only currently has five female voting members of 16 total directors.

While the wording is slightly different to the 2020 guidance, the essence is the same:

The ICANN community has also expressed strong support for efforts to increase diversity along several axes, especially including gender diversity, across the ICANN eco-system. Without compromising the fundamental requirement to have Board members with the necessary integrity, skills, experience, the Board would find it helpful to have greater gender diversity on the Board.

NomCom may find this pressure is relieved slightly by the fact that current ccNSO representative to the board, Nigel Roberts, is being replaced by Katrina Sataki of the Latvian ccTLD registry this October, following an election last month.

The Address Supporting Organization’s rep, Ron Da Silva, is also ending his current term this year. He’s up for reselection against nine other candidates, three of whom are female.

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Free domains for .in registrants

Kevin Murphy, January 8, 2021, Domain Registries

Registrants of new .in domain names will be offered a free domain in a non-Latin script, the Indian government announced today.

The National Internet Exchange of India said it will offer one free internationalized domain name, along with a free email account in the same script, when they register a .in name before the end of the month.

India has over 100 spoken languages, and NIXI runs 15 IDNs ccTLDs that it says cover the 22 official Indian languages, such as Hindi, Bengali and Gujarati, by far the most IDNs of any nation.

The offer is also available to existing .in registrants who renew their names during January.

The deal is designed to “to stimulate the adoption of भारत (IDN) domain name and proliferation of local language content”, NIXI said.

In 2017, India issued five million Hindi email addresses to government workers.

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Here’s why two ICANN directors opposed extending Marby’s CEO contract

Kevin Murphy, January 7, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN CEO Göran Marby’s personality came into question when the organization’s board of directors voted to prematurely extend his contract last year, it emerged this evening.

Back in October, the board voted to add two years to Marby’s current contract, which had been due to expire May 23, 2022, saying it would help with continuity and provide a “sense of calm” at the org.

But one director voted against the extension, and another abstained. Today, with the publications of the October 7 meeting’s minutes, we found out the whos and and whys.

Ihab Osman was the director who voted against the deal, telling the rest of the board that there should have been a formal review and plan to address Marby’s “communications style”, which has apparently come in for criticism.

He added that there should have been a global search for a CEO after Marby’s first six years (that is, in 2022). The minutes read:

Ihab stated that the decision to extend the President and CEO’s contract was taken without, in his view, a formalized professional performance review process reflecting on the past four years of the CEO’s service. He stated that he believed that not doing so was inconsistent with best practices for an organization of the size and importance as ICANN. Ihab noted that comments had been expressed about the CEO’s communication style and did not believe there was a formal plan to work on this issue. Ihab stated his belief that extending a contract that has two years before it is completed is premature, noting that organizations generally benefit from a global search for a CEO after a six-year tenure.

Osman is a Sudanese businessman who currently lists his employers as Saudi agricultural company NADEC and the US-Sudan Business Council.

The director who abstained from the vote was Mandla Msimang. She had procedural concerns, saying that the decision should have been subject to more input from other stakeholders. The minutes read:

Mandla explained that her abstention is not a reflection on the President and CEO. Mandla indicated that she abstained from voting because she did not agree with the process that has been followed to arrive at the decision. Mandla noted that she believes the process lacked a performance-based approach and lacked a more extensive input from key stakeholders, namely the org staff and the community.

South African Msimang is CEO of Nozala Investments, an investment vehicle focused on female-owned businesses.

Both she and Osman are Nominating Committee appointees whose first three-year terms on the ICANN board end in 2022.

While the minutes do not elaborate on the apparent criticisms of Marby’s “communications style”, it’s probably fair to say he’s a bit more confrontational and abrasive when compared to his predecessors.

Fadi Chehadé sometimes came across like a used-car salesman hiding behind a dubious veil of servile humility; Rod Beckstrom had baffling New Age hippy tendencies and often appeared out of his depth when it came to the minutiae of ICANN’s function.

As for Marby’s style… what do you think? Answers in the comments or privately to the usual address.

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Rules for the next new gTLD round near the final straight

Kevin Murphy, January 7, 2021, Domain Policy

The ICANN working group tasked with creating policies for the next round of new gTLDs is wrapping up its work this week, setting up the battle lines for the next phase of the program’s development.

Members of the cross-constituency Subsequent Procedures for new gTLDs group, known as SubPro, have until a minute before midnight UTC Friday night to declare whether they’re not happy with any parts of the 373-page document (pdf).

It’s expected that some groups and individuals will have beef with some of the SubPro recommendations, which will be included in the Final Report as dissenting minority statements before it is sent off to the GNSO Council later this month.

The report, the product of five years of discussions, will largely affirm that the next new gTLD round will proceed along roughly the same lines as the 2012 round, with some of ICANN staff’s historical ad-libs being codified and a few new big concepts introduced.

New additions include the idea of a pre-evaluation process for registry service providers, enabling applicants to pick from a menu of pre-approved back-ends and avoid the cost of having their technical prowess evaluated for every string they apply for.

The price of applying could be kept artificially high, however, to discourage gTLD stockpiling, and the report will also recommend banning the coexistence of single/plural variants of the same word.

One area where there was definitely no consensus was the issue of “closed generics” — a non-brand string reserved for the sole use of the registry — it’s going to be up to the GNSO Council and ICANN to muddle through this one.

While the consensus call marks the end of the working group phase of new gTLD policy development, there are still many substantial hurdles to leap before the next application round opens.

In the last round, the policy was approved by the GNSO Council in 2007, and ICANN didn’t start accepting applications until the start of 2012.

it may not take five years between policy and launch this time, if only because many of the new recommendations are merely affirmations of the status quo, but there are new mechanisms ICANN will have to implement before the next round opens, and we should probably expect more than one comment period on iterations of the next Applicant Guidebook.

The road between now and the next round is still likely measured in years.

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Island demands return of its “naked” ccTLD

Kevin Murphy, January 5, 2021, Domain Policy

The Pacific island nation of Niue is loudly demanding that ICANN hand over control of its ccTLD, .nu, after two decades of bitter argument.

The government has taken the highly unusual move of filing a redelegation request with ICANN’s IANA unit publicly, forwarding it to other governments and the media.

The request is backed by UNR, the former Uniregistry, which is being put forward as the proposed back-end provider.

Niue claims, as it has since at least 2000, that the string was misappropriated by an American entrepreneur in the 1990s and has been used to generate tens of millions of dollars in revenue, with almost no benefit to the country.

The word “nu” is Swedish for “now”. It’s also the masculine form of “naked” in French, which enables lazy reporters to write click-baity headlines.

The Swedish meaning was first spotted by Massachusetts-based Bill Semich in 1997. Together with Niue-based Kiwi ex-pat Stafford Guest, he obtained the delegation for .nu from pre-ICANN root zone supremo Jon Postel.

They used the name Internet Users Society Niue (IUSN) and started selling .nu names to Swedes as a meaningful alternative to .se and .com.

As of today, there are about 264,000 registered .nu names, retailing for about $30 a year. Pre-2018 data is not available, but a couple of years ago, it had over 500,000 names under management.

That kind of money would be incredibly useful to Niue, which has a population of under 2,000 and few other natural resources to speak of. The country relies on hand-outs from New Zealand and, historically, dubious offshore banking schemes and the sale of postage stamps to collectors.

The government has said in the past that .nu cash would enable it to boost its internet infrastructure, thereby boosting its attractiveness as a tourist destination.

IUSN and Niue signed a memorandum of understanding in 1999, but a year later the government passed a law decreeing “.nu is a National resource for which the prime
authority is the Government of Niue”.

It’s been trying to get control of .nu ever since, but IUSN has consistently refused to recognize this law, Niue has always claimed, and has always refused to cooperate in a redelegation.

The company made headlines back in 2003 for claiming that it was rolling out free nationwide Wi-Fi in Niue, but there are serious questions about whether that ever actually happened.

Now, Niue claims:

The Wi-Fi has been continuously unstable and exceedingly limited. As of today, the ccTLD.NU administration and local presence of the IUSN in Niue consists of a motel with a PO Box and the Wi-Fi is covering a [n]egligible are[a] surrounding the motel. There is no operational management of the ccTLD.NU by the IUSN present in Niue.

I believe the motel in question is Coral Gardens, north of capital Alofi, which is or was run by Guest.

While IUSN is still the official ccTLD manager for .nu, according to IANA records, the business operations and technical back-end were transferred to Swedish ccTLD manager IIS in 2013.

IIS agreed to pay IUSN a minimum of $14.7 million over 15 years for the license to .nu, but the domain remains delegated to IUSN.

Niue, represented by its Swedish special envoy Pär Brumark (who until recently was also vice-chair of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, representing Niue) sued IIS in late 2018 in an attempt to gain control of the ccTLD.

The government argues that under Swedish control, profits from .nu can only be earmarked for the development of the Swedish internet, at the expense of Niue.

Brumark tells us the case is currently being delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The problem Niue has now is pretty much the same as it always has been — IANA rules state that the losing party in a redelegation has to consent to the change of control, and IUSN really has no incentive to do so.

Niue’s best chance appears to be either the Swedish lawsuit or the possibility that it can get the GAC on board to support its request.

In-progress redelegation requests are also exempt by convention from ICANN’s transparency rules, so we’re not going to hear anything other than what Niue releases or the GAC can publicly squeeze out of ICANN leadership.

You can read the redelegation request (pdf) here.

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Donuts punter welcomes our new alien overlords in December premium sale

Kevin Murphy, January 5, 2021, Domain Registries

When humanity finally confirms the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life, what’s the new gTLD domain name you’d want to have in your portfolio?

Why, first.contact, of course. The domain name was registered with premium pricing from Donuts in December, according to registry data published this week, and is currently listed for resale with a $1 million price tag.

If domaining is often likened to gambling, first.contact has to be one of the biggest lottery tickets of them all — you’re betting on the biggest news story in human history breaking during your lifetime.

The chances of a final solution to the Fermi paradox may be unknowable, but a million bucks might not be an unreasonable ask if the gamble pays off.

I like the name, anyway, even if it’s more likely to be a drain on the registrant’s resources for the rest of his life.

It’s one of three .contact domains Donuts counted among its top 20 premium-priced sales for December, the others being my.contact and business.contact.

The company took over .contact from Top Level Spectrum in 2019 and took it to general availability last month.

.contact does not rank in the top 10 of Donuts’ portfolio of gTLDs for the month.

While Donuts does not publish sale prices for its premiums, the top name for December appears to have been category-killer office.furniture.

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Net 4 India gets unwelcome Christmas gift from ICANN

Kevin Murphy, January 4, 2021, Domain Registrars

Struggling Indian registrar Net 4 India has been hit by its third notice of contract breach by ICANN, in a letter delivered Christmas Eve.

Net4 is on ICANN’s naughty list this time due to its alleged violations of ICANN’s transfer and expired domains policies. The breach notice is very similar to that delivered just two weeks earlier, concerning different domains.

ICANN reckons Net4, once India’s largest independent registrar, has in some cases been transferring domains to a partner registrar, OpenProvider, without the consent or knowledge of the registrant.

It’s been asking the company for records proving compliance, which Net4 has apparently not been providing. Therein lies the alleged breach.

Net4 has been persona non grata among many of its customers for several months, with complaints about billing and renewal failures, expirations, and a general lack of customer service availability compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.

The company has also been fighting an insolvency proceeding over millions of dollars in allegedly unpaid debts for years, which has been the subject of an ICANN breach notice for about 18 months.

The Christmas Eve breach notice gives Net4 until January 14 to turn over the relevant records or possibly face termination.

But that might prove moot — the December 10 notice had a deadline of December 31, so the wheels may already be in motion.

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