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VeriSign’s upcoming battle for the Chinese .com

Kevin Murphy, February 16, 2011, Domain Registries

Could VeriSign be about to face off against China for control of the Chinese version of .com? That’s an intriguing possibility that was raised during the .nxt conference last week.

Almost as an aside, auDA chief Chris Disspain mentioned during a session that he believes there are moves afoot in China to apply to ICANN for “company”, “network” and “organization” in Chinese characters. In other words, .com, .net and .org.

I’ve been unable to find an official announcement of any such Chinese application, but I’m reliably informed that Noises Have Been Made.

VeriSign has for several quarters been open about its plans to apply for IDN equivalents of its two flagship TLDs, and PIR’s new CEO Brian Cute recently told me he wants to do the same for .org.

While neither company has specified which scripts they’re looking at, Chinese is a no-brainer. As of this week, the nation is the world’s second-largest economy, and easily its most populous.

Since we’re already speculating, let’s speculate some more: who would win the Chinese .com under ICANN’s application rules, VeriSign or China?

If the two strings were close enough to wind up in a contention set, could VeriSign claim intellectual property rights, on the basis of its .com business? It seems like a stretch.

Could China leapfrog to the end of the process with a community application and a demand for a Community Priority Evaluation?

That also seems like a stretch. It’s not impossible – there’s arguably a “community” of companies registered with the Chinese government – but such a move would likely stink of gaming.

Is there a technical stability argument to be made? Is 公司. (which Google tells me means “company” in Chinese) confusingly similar to .com?

If these TLDs went to auction, one thing is certain: there are few potential applicants with deeper pockets than VeriSign, but China is one of them.

UPDATE: VeriSign’s Pat Kane was good enough to post a lengthy explanation of the company’s IDN strategy in the comments.

Chinese TLDs now live, broad adoption achieved in just seven days

Check it out: 教育部。中国.

That’s one, but by no means the only, of the first live, fully Chinese-script domain names. It’s China’s Ministry of Education.

Previously, it had been announced that the .中国 internationalized country-code TLD would not go live until August.

But on Friday CNNIC said that 90% of China’s ministries have got their .中國 domains already, along with 95% of news websites, 90% of universities and 40% of China’s Top 500 enterprises.

Not only was that level of adoption achieved very quietly, it was also achieved very quickly. According to IANA, .中國 was delegated just seven days earlier, on July 9.

IANA also reports that .中國, the IDN for Hong Kong went live on July 12. Taiwan’s .中國 was delegated on July 14.

All of these Chinese-script TLDs were approved by ICANN’s board at the conclusion of the Brussels meeting last month.

It’s perhaps not surprising that ICANN did not broadly announce the latest delegations. It got burnt for pre-empting Arab nations’ publicity when the first IDN TLDs went live in May.

I wonder whether this will help CNNIC reverse the trend of declining registrations in its namespace. According to the latest statistics, the .cn has halved in size over the last year.

Domain name industry growth slowed by China crackdown

The massive slump in Chinese domain name registrations appears to have hit the overall domain name market significantly in the first quarter 2010, slowing its growth.

According to the latest VeriSign Domain Name Industry Brief, only one million net new domains were registered across all TLDs in the period, a paltry 0.6% increase.

There were about 193 million domains active at the end of March, up from 192 million at the start of the year.

A million might seem like a lot, until you consider that the market grew by 11 million domains in the fourth quarter and by three million in the first quarter of 2009.

The slump is certainly due to the rapid decline in .cn domains.

China’s ccTLD had about 13.4 million names at the end of last year, and only 8.8 million at the end of March. April’s numbers show the decline continued, with 8.5 million names registered.

The China drag has been caused by a combination of pricing and the Draconian new identification requirements the communist government placed on the registry, CNNIC.

Chinese registrants now have to present photo ID before they can register a domain.

VeriSign’s own .com/.net business did a decent trade in the quarter, up 7% compared to the same quarter last and 2.7% on December to 99.3 million names in total.

With registrations growing by 2.7 million per month, this means VeriSign already has more than 100 million names in its com/net database.

China connection to Go Daddy WordPress attacks

Go Daddy’s hosting customers are under attack again, and this time it looks like it’s more serious.

Reports are surfacing that WordPress sites hosted at Go Daddy, and possibly also Joomla and plain PHP pages there, are being hacked to add drive-by malware downloads to them.

Go Daddy has acknowledged the attacks, blaming outdated WordPress installations and weak FTP passwords, and has put up a page with instructions for cleaning the infection.

Last week, I was told that the first round of attacks was very limited. Today, the attackers seem to have stepped it up a notch.

As a result, Go Daddy could find itself in a similar situation to Network Solutions, which had a couple of thousand customer sites hacked a few weeks back.

The attacks appear to be linked to a well-known crime gang with a Chinese connection.

According to Sucuri, when a Go Daddy-hosted WordPress page is hacked, JavaScript is injected that attempts to redirect surfers to a drive-by attack from the domain kdjkfjskdfjlskdjf.com (don’t go there).

This domain was registered with BizCN.com, an ICANN-accredited Chinese registrar, but its name servers appear to have been created purely for the attack.

The registrant’s email address is hilarykneber@yahoo.com. This connects the attack to the “Kneber” botnet, a successful criminal enterprise that has been operating since at least December 2009.

A Netwitness study revealed the network comprised at least 74,000 hacked computers, and that the bulk of Kneber’s command and control infrastructure is based in China.

Since Kneber is known to be operated by a financially motivated gang, and it’s by no means certain that they’re Chinese, it’s probably inaccurate to suggest there’s something political going on.

However, I will note that Go Daddy was quite vocal about its withdrawal from the .cn Chinese domain name registration market.

Network Solutions, while it was quieter, also stopped selling .cn domains around the same time as the Chinese government started enforcing strict registrant ID rules last December.

I-Root yanks Beijing node

Kevin Murphy, March 31, 2010, Domain Tech

Autonomica, which runs i-root-servers.net, has stopped advertising its Anycast node in Beijing, after reports last week that its responses were being tampered with.

In the light of recent tensions between China and the US, people got a bit nervous after the Chilean ccTLD manager reported some “odd behaviour” to the dns-ops mailing list last week.

It seemed that DNS lookups for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were being censored as they returned from I-Root’s node in China, which is hosted by CNNIC.

There was no suggestion that Autonomica was complicit in any censorship, and chief executive Karl Erik Lindqvist has now confirmed as much.

“Netnod/Autonomica is 100% committed to serving the root zone DNS data as published by the IANA. We have made a clear and public declaration of this, and we guarantee that the responses sent out by any i.root-servers.net instance consist of the appropriate data in the IANA root zone,” he wrote.

While Lindqvist is not explicit, the suggestion seems to be that somebody on the Chinese internet not associated with I-Root has been messing with DNS queries as they pass across the network.

This is believed to be common practice in China, whose citizens are subject to strict censorship, but any such activity outside its borders obviously represents a threat to the internet’s reliability.

The CNNIC node is offline until further notice.