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New ccTLDs may have to block name collisions

Kevin Murphy, January 26, 2015, Domain Registries

ICANN is thinking about expanding its controversial policy on name collisions from new gTLDs to new ccTLDs.

The country code Names Supporting Organization has been put on notice (pdf) that ICANN’s board of directors plans to pass a resolution on the matter shortly.

The resolution would call on the ccNSO to “undertake a study to understand the implications of name collisions associated with the launch of new ccTLDs” including internationalized domain name ccTLDs, and would “recommend” that ccTLD managers implement the same risk mitigation plan as new gTLDs.

Because ICANN does not contract with ccTLDs, a recommendation and polite pressure is about as far as it can go.

Name collisions are domains in currently undelegated TLDs that nevertheless receive DNS root traffic. In some cases, that may be because the TLDs are in use on internal networks, raising the potential of data leakage or breakages if the TLDs are then delegated.

ICANN contracts require new gTLDs to block such names or wildcard their zones for 90 days after launch.

Some new gTLD registry executives have mockingly pointed to the name collisions issue whenever a new ccTLD has been delegated over the last year or so, asking why, if collisions are so important, the mitigation plan does not apply to ccTLDs.

If the intent was to persuade ICANN that the collisions management framework was unnecessary, the opposite result has been achieved.

Judge blocks seizure of Iran’s ccTLD

Kevin Murphy, November 13, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN has won a court battle, and avoided a major political incident, over an attempt by terrorism victims to seize ccTLDs belonging to Iran, Korea and Syria.

A District of Columbia judge ruled this week that while ccTLDs may be a form of “property” under the law, they’re not “attachable” property.

Attachment is a legal concept used when creditors attempt to seize assets belonging to debtors.

The ruling overturns a request by a group of terrorism survivors, led by attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, to have .ir, .sy, .kp, سور, and ايران. transferred to them in lieu of payment of previous court rulings.

Darshan-Leitner has previously secured US court judgments amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars against the three nations. Because the nations have not paid these penalties, she’s been using the courts to seize state-owned assets in the US instead.

But US District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled (pdf) earlier this week:

the country code Top Level Domain names at issue may not be attached in satisfaction of plaintiffs’ judgments because they are not property subject to attachment under District of Columbia law.

However, he added in a footnote:

But the conclusion that ccTLDs may not be attached in satisfaction of a judgment under District of Columbia law does not mean that they cannot be property. It simply means that they are not attachable property within this statutory scheme.

Drawing on “sparse” case law, Lamberth’s rationale appears to be that domain names are not a product, they’re a service. He wrote:

The ccTLDs exist only as they are made operational by the ccTLD managers that administer the registries of second level domains within them and by the parties that cause the ccTLDs to be listed on the root zone file. A ccTLD, like a domain name, cannot be conceptualized apart from the services provided by these parties. The Court cannot order plaintiffs’ insertion into this arrangement.

The ruling, which may of course be challenged by the plaintiffs, helps ICANN and the US government avoid a huge political embarrassment at a time when the links between the two are being dissolved and relations with Iran are defrosting.

Terror victims try to seize five ccTLDs

Kevin Murphy, July 30, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN is fighting a US court action that could see the ccTLDs of Iran, Syria and Korea being seized by victims of terrorism.

While ICANN has not been sued as such, it’s been named in three “writs of attachment”, which seek to force the organization to hand over control of .ir, .sy, .kp, سور, and ايران.

This audacious attempt to take over three nations’ domains is being attempted by lawyers representing victims of state-sponsored terrorism, reportedly led by Nitsana Darshan-Leitner.

Darshan-Leitner has secured billions of dollars worth of judgments against these states in US courts over the last decade.

But because the states won’t pay up, she’s been getting US courts to seize state-owned US-based assets, such as valuable real estate, instead.

Now her attention has turned to domain names.

The writs against ICANN, issued by a District of Columbia court a month ago, would force ICANN to hand over any assets belonging to Iran, Syria and Korea.

But ICANN says it cannot and should not be made to do so, filing hundreds of pages of court documents yesterday explaining why ccTLDs are not property that can be “attached”.

“Attachment” is a legal term used in the process of transferring assets from debtors to creditors.

In its defense, ICANN argues that allowing the seizure would do nothing less than jeopardize the globally interoperable internet:

First, a ccTLD simply is not “property” subject to attachment. Second, although operating for the benefit of the people of Iran, Syria and North Korea, respectively, the relevant ccTLDs are not “owned” by the defendants or anyone else, for that matter. Third, the .IR, .SY and .KP ccTLDs are not “located” in the District of Columbia or even the United States, and therefore are beyond the reach of Plaintiffs’ Writs of Attachment. Fourth, even if these ccTLDs could be characterized as “property in the United States of the defendants,” this Court would lack jurisdiction over these proceedings, according to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. Fifth, ICANN does not unilaterally have the capability or authority to transfer the .IR, .SY or .KP ccTLDs to Plaintiffs. Finally, a forced transfer of the .IR, .SY and .KP ccTLDs would destroy whatever value may exist in these ccTLDs, would wipe out the hundreds of thousands of second-level domain names registered therein by various individuals, businesses and charitable organizations, and could jeopardize the single, global, interoperable structure the Internet.

“While we sympathize with what plaintiffs may have endured, ICANN’s role in the domain name system has nothing to do with any property of the countries involved,” ICANN general counsel John Jeffrey said in a statement.

In its motions to quash the writs, ICANN describes how it has no contractual relationship and few dealings with the three ccTLD managers in question and how it has received no money from them.

It goes on to describe its relationship to the DNS root zone and the US Department of Commerce

The motion then compares domain names to street addresses and not “property”:

a ccTLD can be thought of as a zip code. That zip code may encompass many different addresses, and those addresses in turn may correspond to certain places on the Internet that people can access, such as websites. But the street address itself is not property, nor is the zip code in which the street address exists…To the extent a ccTLD is capable of a legal definition, it is a collection of technical and administrative services, rather than property

There’s a bunch of US case law that states second-level domain names are not property, which ICANN draws on heavily in its motion.

I’m not going to dwell on the legal issues at stake here too much, but the case is politically, to use an inappropriate word, explosive.

If ICANN were to receive a court order, instructing it to transfer ownership of .ir to Darshan-Leitner’s group, and had no option but to comply, we’re looking at a major international political incident.

Under ICANN’s current IANA arrangement, ICANN-recommended changes to ccTLD management are handled by Verisign, but only with the consent of the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The US Department of Commerce, of which NTIA is a part, would have to give its approval to the transfer of Iran’s ccTLD from an Iranian institution to an Israeli entity.

That, at a time when US-Iranian relations are softening, in light of the new ISIS crisis in Iraq.

It’s a recipe for putting the IANA contract at the center of what can mildly be described as a “political incident” unlike anything the internet has seen to date.

While the US government has a role in ccTLD redelegations today, due to its membership of the DNS root zone triumvirate, it has announced its intent to step away from IANA stewardship.

The NTIA will be replaced, possibly as early as September 2015, by a mechanism that the ICANN community has started to develop.

If we can assume that the US government’s current role may prove to be a buffer between the US courts and potentially devastating forced ccTLD redelegations, it’s not at all clear that the NTIA-replacement mechanism would hold the same kind of political clout.

Would an IANA without US stewardship be more susceptible to crazy US court rulings?

If the US court asserts its authority over the DNS root zone, by ordering the transfer of a ccTLD to a private entity, all ccTLD registries would have a right to be very nervous indeed.

The case also highlights the fact that ICANN is subject to US court jurisdiction — something likely to remain after the IANA stewardship transition — which also makes some nations very nervous.

Rumors have been floating around for a while that ICANN would like to move its headquarters and primary legal structure to Switzerland — it already has an office and a legal presence there — and this case will certainly provide ammunition for those who would like to see such a move happen.

ccTLD anger over IANA group “capture”

Kevin Murphy, July 23, 2014, Domain Policy

Operators of dozens of ccTLDs are said to be furious that they don’t have representation on the group coordinating the transition of the IANA functions from US oversight.

The IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) has been “captured” by members of ICANN’s country-code Names Supporting Organization, which does not represent all ccTLDs, according to ccTLD sources.

While the ccNSO is the official body representing ccTLDs within ICANN, many refuse to participate.

Some registries fear that signing up to ICANN and its rules may one day lead to them losing their delegations, while others have sovereignty or liability concerns.

It is believed that while 151 ccTLDs participate in the ccNSO, 104 do not.

None of these 104 are represented on the new ICG, which met for the first time to draft a charter in London last Thursday and Friday.

The ICG is tasked with holding the pen when the community writes a proposal for replacing the US government in the management of the DNS root zone and other IANA functions.

The ccTLD community was given four seats on the ICG, out of a total of 27. All four seats were taken by ccNSO members, picked by a five-person selection committee that included one non-ccNSO member.

I gather that about 20 non-ccNSO ccTLDs are up in arms about this state of affairs, which they believe has seen them “proactively excluded” from the ICG.

Some concerns originate from operators of ccTLDs for dependent territories that may face the risk of being taken over by governments in future.

Because IANA manages the DNS root zone, the transition process may ultimately impact ccTLD redelegations.

But the loudest voice, one of only two speaking on the record so far, is India’s government-established National Internet Exchange of India, which runs .in.

Dr Govind (apparently he doesn’t use his first name), CEO of NIXI, said in a statement last week:

Clearly the process has already been captured by a subset of the ccTLD community. The selection process controlled by the ccNSO resulted in all four seats being assigned to their members. A significant section of the ccTLD Registry operator community do not share the objectives of the ccNSO membership are now excluded from the process.

Balazs Martos, registry manager of Hungary’s .hu, added:

I am very concerned that the ccNSO seem to feel they speak for the whole ccTLD Community when dealing with every IANA matter. They do not, .HU is an IANA service user, but we are not a member of the ccNSO.

The joint statement also raises concerns about “cultural diversity”, which seems like a cheap move played from a position in the deck close to the race card.

The ccTLD representation on the ICG comprises the UK, New Zealand, China and Nigeria.

The chair of the ccNSO, .ca’s Byron Holland, has stated that the way the these four were selected from the 12 candidates (two of whom were non-ccNSO) was a “very difficult task”.

The selection committee had to consider factors such as geography, registry size, candidate expertise and available time, governance structure and business model, Holland said.

Blogging last week, addressing Govind’s concerns if not directly acknowledging them, he wrote:

Given the criteria we had to balance, there were no ‘reserved’ seats for any one group. The fact is four seats only allowed us to ensure some – not all – of the criteria were met. The discussion was difficult and the outcome was not unanimous. We did, however, reach consensus. In paring this list down to the final four, we balanced the selection criteria – balance being the keyword here. Geographic diversity is a good example of this – while there are five ICANN-defined geographic regions, we only had four seats on the Coordination Committee.

Did we meet the all of the criteria set out at the beginning of the process? No, but given the constraints we were facing – four seats to represent a community as large and diverse as ccTLDs – I have no hesitation in endorsing each of them for their ability to be representative of the global ccTLD community – both ccNSO members and non-members – effectively.

Wikipedia to get single-letter .wiki domain

Top Level Design has scored a bit of a coup for its forthcoming .wiki gTLD — Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, has signed up as an anchor tenant.

According to the registry, Wikimedia will use w.wiki as a URL shortener and they’re in talks about other domains.

The company has also applied to ICANN to release hundreds of two-letter language codes that the foundation wants to use for language-specific short links.

The deal is reminiscent of .CO Internet’s launch, when it allocated the now-ubiquitous t.co for Twitter’s in-house URL shortener, giving it a much-needed marketing boost.

The deal for two-letter domains stands only a slim chance of of being ready in time for .wiki’s general availability, scheduled for May 26, in my view.

Under ICANN’s standard Registry Agreement, all two-character strings are blocked, in order to avoid clashes with country codes used in the ccTLD naming schema.

Top Level Design has now used the Registry Services Evaluation Process to try to get 179 two-letter strings, each of which represents a language code, unblocked.

Wikimedia explicitly endorses the proposal, in a letter attached to the March 11 RSEP (pdf)

The organization plans to use domains such as fr.wiki to redirect to French-language Wikipedia pages and so forth.

It remains to be seen whether ICANN will approve the request. It’s previously been envisaged that registries would approach each country individually to have its ccTLD’s matching string released.

Top Level Design points out that the strings it wants unblocked are from the ISO 639-1 language codes list, not the ISO 3166-1 lists from which ccTLD names are drawn.

But it’s a bit of an argument to nowhere — the strings are identical in most cases.

Under the RSEP policy, Top Level Design really should have been given a preliminary determination by now. It filed its request March 11 but it was only posted last week.

The clock, which gives ICANN 15 days to give the nod or not, may have only just started.

After the preliminary determination, there would be a public comment period and a board of directors decision. The timetable for this would not allow .wiki to launch with the two-letter names active.

But even with the delay, it seems that the registry will be coming out of the door with at least one strong anchor tenant, which is something most new gTLDs have so far failed to manage.

Eleven TLDs get removed from the DNS

Kevin Murphy, October 3, 2013, Domain Registries

ICANN will soon remove 11 experimental internationalized domain name TLDs from the domain name system.

The TLDs, which represent “.test” in nine scripts and 10 languages, were added to the root almost exactly six years ago in preparation for ICANN’s IDN ccTLDs program.

Now that the program is quite mature, with a few dozen IDN ccTLDs live on the internet with no major reported problems, ICANN has decided that the test TLDs are no longer required.

They will be removed from the DNS root zone on October 31, ICANN said.

dotShabaka Diary — Day 15, Iran and Name Collisions

Kevin Murphy, October 3, 2013, Domain Registries

The fifteenth installment of dotShabaka Registry’s journal, charting its progress towards becoming one of the first new gTLDs to go live, written by general manager Yasmin Omer.

Thursday 3 October 2013

At a time when ICANN has hit the ‘pause’ button on the new gTLD program in order to assess the impact of “name collisions” on the security and stability of the DNS, we were surprised to see the ICANN Board approve the delegation of ایران., the IDN ccTLD for the Islamic Republic of Iran. While we understand the many distinctions between a ccTLD and a gTLD, the DNS does not make any such distinction.

As we’ve heard from Paul Mockapetris and John Crain recently in their interviews posted on the ICANN website, name collisions (or, more accurately, NX Domain responses) is not a new phenomenon; they have been evident with the introduction of any TLD and with existing TLDs in the root. Experience has shown that steps have been taken to successfully resolve the issues. We understand that ICANN is concerned that the use of NX Domain responses has the potential to create confusion with the introduction of new TLDs into the DNS.

As a contracted party with ICANN, شبكة. (an IDN gTLD) is unable to be delegated as we wait the outcomes of ICANN’s deliberations on name collisions. We have paid our $185,000 application fee, we have undertaken a very resource intensive exercise to ensure a compliant application, we have passed Initial Evaluation, we have signed a registry agreement with ICANN, we have passed pre-delegation testing and yet we sit and wait.

Our understanding of the IDN ccTLD fast track process is that it is much less rigorous, the application fee is voluntary, there is no requirement to enter into a contract with ICANN, the TLD can develop a launch strategy that is not restricted by ICANN mandated rights protection mechanisms, and any contribution to ICANN’s budget is voluntary. But because this is a ccTLD and not a new gTLD, the Board has seen fit to approve this delegation request at this time despite the serious conversation going on in the community about name collisions.

As we said previously, the DNS does not distinguish between a ccTLD or a gTLD, or for that matter an IDN ccTLD or an IDN gTLD. We would appreciate an explanation as to why we sit and wait for delegation while the IDN ccTLD is approved.

Read previous and future diary entries here.

Tiny Tokelau now has the biggest ccTLD in the world

The .tk domain is now the biggest ccTLD in the world, according to the latest stats from Centr.

In its just-published biannual Domainwire Stat Report, Centr says that .tk had 16.7 million registered domains in April, taking the #1 spot in the league table for the first time.

It now out-ranks Germany’s .de (15.4 million), the United Kingdom’s .uk (10.5 million), China’s .cn (7.5 million) and the Netherland’s .nl (5.2 million), despite Tokelau having a population of less than 1,500.

The reason for its success, of course, is that .tk domains are free to register. The ccTLD frequently pops up towards the top of abuse lists for that very reason.

At 54.7%, .tk wasn’t the fastest-growing ccTLD over the six months covered by Centr’s report, however. That honor belongs to .cn, which bounced back from previous declines with an 82.7% growth rate.

KSRegistry takes over .gd but questions remain about two other hijacked ccTLDs

KSRegistry has been appointed the new registry operator for Grenada’s ccTLD after bad management at the previous operator led to the whole TLD being hijacked.

But the fate of two other hijacked ccTLDs — .tc and .vg — appears to be less certain, with significant confusion over who’s in charge at both.

One of them, at least, may still be “hijacked”.

But KSRegistry, part of the KeyDrive group, said today that it took over the technical management of .gd from AdamsNames (Amaryllis Investments Ltd) on May 1.

While a press release describes the change as a “redelegation” by ICANN’s IANA function, in fact it’s just a change of technical contact in the IANA database.

Grenada’s National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission remains the official, delegated manager of the TLD.

The hasty switch-over follows the alleged wholesale hijacking of the ccTLD by a disgruntled former employee of AdamsNames, who temporarily relocated it from the UK to Turkey.

The TLD, along with .tc and .vg, went AWOL in March after one Ertan Ulutas apparently took over the domain AdamsNames.net, the web site which was used by registrants to manage their names.

For a couple of weeks the site remained in the hands of the alleged hijacker, and all the while the AdamsNames.net site presented itself as the official registry manager.

KSRegistry was at the time the appointed back-end provider, appointed last year, for AdamsNames.

Due to the period of confusion, KSRegistry said today that the integrity of registration data in .gd may have been compromised, and that the zone will be “frozen” until May 21.

KSRegistry said in a statement:

While the .GD zone is frozen, no registrations, modifications, transfers, deletions or renewals can be made until the zone file has been fully reviewed and confirmed as valid and complete. Expired domains which are still in the zone can explicit be set to be either deleted or renewed prior to the reactivation of automated domain deletion function on May 21. Contact and nameserver updates can be done by each registrar for the domain names in its portfolio once the ServerUpdateProhibited status is removed. The NTRC and the KSregistry GmbH intend to resolve the discrepancies in the registration data with the .GD accredited registrars until May 21, 2013.

Getting rid of AdamsNames seems like a smart move by Grenada.

While AdamsNames has not been accused of any wrongdoing, allowing its TLDs to get hijacked, putting many thousands of domains at risk, certainly smacks of incompetence.

And the current status of .tc and .vg is unclear enough that I’d advise extreme caution when doing business with either TLD until further notice.

According to IANA records, .vg (British Virgin Islands) still has AdamsNames listed as the technical manager, but there have been significant, dodgy-looking changes at .tc recently.

Notably, references to AdamsNames as technical contact and official registration site for the ccTLD have been removed and replaced with those for a couple of new companies.

TLD AS (based in Turkey) and Meridian TLD (based in the British Virgin Islands) have been named as technical contact and registration site for .tc respectively.

Also, a name server for .tc that was operated by RIPE (a respectable organization), was also removed and replaced with one from zone.tc, a domain controlled by Meridian TLD, in early April.

All the name servers for .tc, and all but one of the name servers for .vg, are now on domains controlled by Meridian.

On the face of it, it looks almost legit. Meridian’s web site even states that its representatives were at the ICANN meeting in Beijing a month ago.

But according to AdamsNames, Meridian is actually run by Ulutas (the alleged hijacker) and at least two other people, and the two other people showed up in Beijing pretending to represent AdamsNames.

AdamsNames said on its web site:

We have to state frank and clear that neither Ayse Ergen nor her companion are authorised to represent or to act on behalf of AdamsNames Limited. By posing as employees of AdamsNames, the group of criminals around Ertan Ulutas, newly also known as “Meridian TLD Corp.”, continues its efforts to hijack the business of AdamsNames (run since 1999) by underhand means.

ICANN/IANA, according to AdamsNames, was aware of its complaints about Meridian from late March, which was before it made the changes that gave Meridian effective control over .tc.

Right now, it looks disturbingly like the alleged “hijacker” has actually managed to not only take over operations for at least one entire ccTLD but also to make it official.

Mali’s domain could change hands next week

Kevin Murphy, February 22, 2013, Domain Registries

ICANN’s board of directors will next week vote on whether to redelegate .ml, the country-code top-level domain for the war-torn nation of Mali, to a new registry operator.

The ccTLD is currently delegated to Societe des Telecommunications du Mali (Sotelma), a publicly traded telecommunications provider, but it’s not currently possible to register a .ml domain.

The reasons for a redelegation are never publicized by ICANN until after they are approved, when IANA publishes a redelegation report, so it’s not yet clear what’s going on this case.

Mali has been hitting headlines in Europe recently due to the French involvement in government efforts to retake the northern parts of the country from Islamist rebels.

Following the outbreak of hostilities a year ago, in March 2012 the Malian government was overthrown in a coup d’état that was widely condemned by the international community.

Following sanctions the military quickly ceded power to an interim president, who continues in the role today ahead of elections to find a more permanent successor, scheduled for July.

France, supported by allies including the UK, moved in to help Mali retake the north last month.

Sotelma is based in the capital, Bamako, which is not held by rebels.

The redelegation of .ml is on the main agenda — rather than the consent agenda, which is usually the case for redelegations — for ICANN’s board meeting next Thursday.