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Dotless domains are dead

Kevin Murphy, August 16, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN has banned dotless gTLDs, putting a halt to Google’s plans to run .search as a dotless search service and confounding the hopes of some portfolio applicants.

ICANN’s New gTLD Program Committee, acting with the powers of its board of directors passed the resolution on Tuesday. It was published this morning. Here’s the important bit (links added):

Resolved (2013.08.13.NG02), in light of the current security and stability risks identified in SAC053, the IAB statement and the Carve Report, and the impracticality of mitigating these risks, the NGPC affirms that the use of dotless domains is prohibited.

The current version of the Applicant Guidebook bans dotless domains (technically, it bans apex A, AAAA and MX records) but leaves the door open for registries to request an exception via Extended Evaluation.

This new decision closes that door.

The decision comes a week after the publication of Carve Systems’ study of the dotless domain issue, which concluded that the idea was potentially “dangerous” and that if ICANN intended to allow them it should do substantial outreach to hardware and software makers, essentially asking them to change their products.

The Internet Architecture Board said earlier that “dotless domains are inherently harmful to Internet security.”

Microsoft, no doubt motivated in part at least by competitive concerns in the search market, had repeatedly implored ICANN to implement a ban on security grounds.

Google had planned to run .search as a browser service that would allow users to specify preferred search engines. I doubt the dotless ban will impact its application’s chances of approval.

Donuts and Uniregistry, which together have applied for almost 400 gTLDs, had also pushed for ICANN to allow dotless domains, although I do not believe their applications explicitly mentioned such services.

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.