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Most registrars did NOT “fail” abuse audit, ICANN says

Kevin Murphy, October 15, 2021, Domain Registrars

Most registrars did not “fail” a recent abuse audit, despite what I wrote in my original coverage, according to ICANN.

“Referring to a certain blog, none of the registrars failed the audit,” ICANN senior audit manager Yan Agranonik said during a session of ICANN 72’s Prep Week last night.

He’s talking about ME! He’s talking about ME!

“Failure would mean that there’s an irreparable finding of deficiency that can not be corrected timely or it just goes against the registrar’s business model,” Agranonik said.

An accompanying presentation reads:

None of the registrars “failed” the audit. “Failure” means that the auditee did not acknowledge/remediate identified violations of the RAA or their business practices are not compatible with RAA.

At the risk of prolonging a tedious semantic debate, what I reported in August, when the results of the audit were announced, was: “The large majority of accredited registrars failed an abuse-related audit at the first pass, according to ICANN.”

A bunch of registrar employees, and now apparently ICANN’s own head auditor, disagreed with my characterization.

ICANN had issued a press release stating that of 126 audited registrars, it had identified 111 “that were not fully compliant with the RAA’s requirements related to the receiving and handling of DNS abuse reports.”

To me, if ICANN checks whether you’re doing a thing you should be doing and you’re not doing the thing, that’s a fail.

But to ICANN, if ICANN checks whether you’re doing a thing you should be doing and you’re not doing the thing, and it tells you you’re not doing the thing you should be doing, so you start doing the thing, that’s not a fail.

I think reasonable people could disagree on the definitions here.

But I did write that the registrars “failed… according to ICANN”, and that appears to be inaccurate, so I’m happy to correct the record today.

Alice’s Registry disappears down the rabbit hole

Kevin Murphy, October 13, 2021, Domain Registrars

One of the oldest domain registrars appears to be on its way out.

San Francisco-based Alice’s Registry has been hit with a breach notice and termination warning by ICANN after apparently being incommunicado for over a year.

According to ICANN, they last spoke in August 2020, when AR indicated that it was thinking about “shutting down the registrar business”.

Since then, the web site has stopped working and ICANN can’t get through on the telephone.

The breach notice claims past-due fees and a failure to operate a working Whois service, and gives the registrar until November 1 to pay up or get its contract terminated.

Alice’s Registry is one of the oldest registrars, founded in 1999, but it’s never had more than a few thousand names under management. Its founder, Rick Wesson, has been involved in the ICANN community since pretty much the beginning.

Pheenix goes AWOL, gets canned

Drop-catch registrar Pheenix has had its registrar contract terminated by ICANN after apparently going AWOL.

ICANN has been chasing the company for breaches related to Whois and access to registrant data since October 2019, but hasn’t heard a peep out of the outfit for a year.

As I noted when ICANN published its first breach notice last month, ICANN hasn’t been able to connect with Pheenix via email or phone or fax since May 2020.

Since then, it’s also discovered that the company is no longer at the mailing address it has on record.

The registrar has not added any domain names since April 2020. It seems clear it no longer has any interest in doing, or perhaps ability to do, business.

The de-accredited registrar bulk transfer process will now kick in. ICANN will select a registrar to move Pheenix’s 6,000-odd domains to.

Pheenix once specialized in drop-catching, and had over 500 ICANN-accredited registrars to its name. Almost all of those were ditched in November 2017.

PDR wins beauty contest to take over Net4’s stranded customers

PublicDomainRegistry.com, part of the new Newfold Digital registrar group, has been picked to take over thousands of domain names from disgraced and defunct Net 4 India.

ICANN seems to have used the beauty contest method of picking Net4’s successor, saying that PDR was picked in part because it already operates in the region. It’s based in Mumbai.

ICANN expects PDR to start reaching out to its new customers next week with instructions on how to get access to their domains at their new registrar.

It goes without saying that Net4 customers should be wary of possible scams, which sometimes accompany this kind of event.

Customers won’t be charged for the transfers, and they won’t have to deal with transfer authorization codes, ICANN said.

PDR was part of the Endurance group until its recent merger with the Web.com group, which created Newfold.

It’s the second-largest registrar group and undoubtedly a safer set of hands than Net4, which has left thousands of customers struggling to renew, manage and transfer their domains for several months.

The bulk transfer to PDR comes after ICANN terminated Net4’s contract for multiple breaches.

Net4 nightmare almost over as court rules ICANN can shut down chaotic registrar

Kevin Murphy, April 29, 2021, Domain Registrars

ICANN is finally moving to shut down Net 4 India’s gTLD domains business, after months of upheaval and thousands of customer complaints.

An Indian insolvency court this week lifted its ban on ICANN terminating Net4’s registrar contract, after ICANN appealed to it with a wealth of evidence showing how critical services such as hospitals and train services were being harmed by registrants being unable to transfer their domains away.

ICANN has now invoked its De-Accredited Registrar Transition Procedure, which will see Net4’s tens of thousands of gTLD domains transferred to a different, more stable registrar, according to head of compliance Jamie Hedlund.

The Org had terminated Net4’s contract in February after hearing from thousands of customers whose names had ceased to work, expired, or were locked-in to Net4 due to its broken transfers function.

But the Delhi court handling the registrar’s insolvency asked ICANN in March to delay the termination at the behest of the resolution professional attempting to extract as much value as possible from Net4 in service of its creditors.

That order was lifted orally after a hearing on Tuesday, according to ICANN.

Under the DARTP, either the dying registrar picks a successor or ICANN picks one, either from a rotation of pre-approved registrars or by rolling out a full registrar application process.

Given the timing crisis, and Net4’s irresponsible behavior to date, it appears most likely that ICANN will hand-pick a gaining registrar from the pre-qualified pool.

Hedlund blogged that ICANN expects to name Net4’s successor within two weeks, after which the gaining registrar will reach out to registrants to inform them how to proceed.

Registrants will not be charged for the bulk transfer.

Net4 had over 70,000 gTLD domains under management at the end of 2020, but this number has likely decreased in the intervening time.

ccTLDs such as India’s .in will not be covered by the bulk transfer. It will be up to local registry NIXI to minimize disruption for Net4’s .in registrants.

ICANN asks registries to freeze Net 4 India’s expired domains

Kevin Murphy, April 26, 2021, Domain Registrars

ICANN has asked all domain registries to exempt from deletion expired names registered via collapsed Indian registrar Net 4 India.

The company has been in receipt of an ICANN termination notice since the end of February, but it’s in insolvency proceedings and ICANN says the insolvency court is preventing it from carrying out the execution.

Net4’s customers have been plagued with problems such as the inability to renew or transfer their domains for well over half a year, and ICANN has issued three public breach notices since December.

ICANN says it has received more than 8,000 complaints related to the registrar — which does not even seem to have a functioning web site any more — since things got real bad last September.

Today, ICANN’s head of compliance Jamie Hedlund blogged:

While we await a final order from the insolvency court, ICANN has requested that all registries not delete expired domain names registered through Net 4 India that registrants have not been able to renew or transfer.

While this may not solve every technical issue experienced by Net4 customers, it should at least prevent them permanently losing their domains, assuming a high level of registry compliance with ICANN’s request.

Registrants won’t be fully safe until ICANN is able to carry out the termination and move Net4’s domains to a stable third-party registrar.

While ICANN disputes whether the Indian insolvency court has jurisdiction over it, it is nevertheless currently complying with its instruction to delay termination until further notice.

Hedlund wrote:

ICANN org is taking actions permitted by its agreements, policies, and law to protect registrants and to facilitate the bulk transfer of the Net 4 India registrations to a functioning registrar that can service its customers. ICANN also is being respectful of the [National Company Law Tribunal’s] processes with this case, which have not yet concluded.

He wrote that the next scheduled hearing of the NCLT is tomorrow, April 27. It appears to have been called due to Hedlund recently impressing upon the court the importance of the crisis.

Formerly massive drop-catcher faces ICANN probe

Kevin Murphy, April 26, 2021, Domain Registrars

Pheenix, which used to operate a network of hundreds of accredited registrars, now faces potentially losing its last remaining accreditation, due to an ICANN probe.

ICANN told the US-based company in a breach notice last week that it faces additional action unless it fixes a bunch of problems related to domain transfers and Whois before May 14.

According to ICANN, for over a year Pheenix has been declining to provide data showing it is in compliance with the Expired Registration Recovery Policy and the Transfer Policy, related to dozens of domains.

Pheenix was told about at least one such disputed domain as far back as February last year, but ICANN says it’s been unresponsive to its outreach.

It’s also failed to implement an RDAP server, which ICANN has been nagging it about since October 2019. RDAP, the Registration Data Access Protocol, is the successor protocol to Whois.

A quick spot-check reveals that the disputed names are traffic domains once belonging to legitimate organizations, usually with inbound Wikipedia links, that were captured after the organization in question folded and its domains expired. Most were repurposed with low-quality content and advertising.

That fits in with Pheenix’s registrar business model. It was until a few years ago a huge drop-catching player, with over 500 shell accreditations it used to gain speedy access to dropping domains.

But it dumped almost 450 of these in November 2017, and another 50 the following April.

Since then, Pheenix’s primary IANA number (the coveted “888”) has been associated with fewer and fewer domains.

It had 6,930 domains under management at the end of 2020, down from a November 2017 peak of 71,592.

It hasn’t recorded any new domain adds in any gTLDs since April 2020.

According ICANN’s chronology of events, it’s sent dozens of emails, faxes and voicemails over the last year, related to multiple domain names, and it’s only received a single email in response. And that was in May 2020.

Net4’s “complete breakdown” is bringing India to a screeching halt, and ICANN could have prevented it

Kevin Murphy, April 20, 2021, Domain Registrars

Domains belonging to hospitals, power grids, public transit services, banks, and other critical services have gone offline due to the collapse of a major local registrar whose troubles ICANN has been aware of for years.

Net 4 India, which has been slowly imploding over the last year, saw a number of its name servers stop functioning last week, leading to customers’ web sites and email services ceasing to work.

Affected customers are not only domainers, web developers, mom-n-pop stores, and small businesses. We’re talking about major players in India’s physical infrastructure, some with billions of dollars of annual revenue.

Power Grid Corporation of India, for example, has complained to ICANN that its primary web site, at powergridindia.com, has gone down, and that its email at that domain is no longer working.

That’s a government-owned company that according to Wikipedia takes in $5.4 billion per year and is responsible for transmitting 50% of the electricity generated in India, a nation of almost 1.4 billion people.

“We are facing problems with DNS of Net4India and due to non availability of email service our operations would affect badly,” a Power Grid employee told ICANN, according to papers filed with Net4’s insolvency court at the weekend.

Others to inform ICANN of outages include:

  • The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, which with over four million passengers per day is India’s largest mass transit rail network.
  • Multi-billion-dollar conglomerate Bharti Group, which has its fingers in pies such as telecoms, insurance and food, said its “email and other essential business services have been rendered defunct”.
  • The Punjab National Bank, which had revenue of over $9 billion last year, named eight domains, seven of which were in gTLDs, that were with Net4 but no longer work.
  • Global Hospitals India, a private healthcare provider that sees to 18,000 transplant surgeries per year, has seen its .com domain stop working and has been unable to secure an auth code for a transfer out.

I’ve not seen any reports of these internet-based problems spilling over into actual life-threatening issues such as power outages or failures of critical hospital functions, but one can only assume that not having functional email represents a risk of this kind of thing happening.

The customer testimonies cited above were part of a second batch (pdf) sent to the insolvency court handling Net4’s case by ICANN’s head of compliance, Jamie Hedlund, on Sunday.

And those are just a sampling of the over 2,400 complaints about Net4 that ICANN said it received between April 14 and April 16 last week.

Net4’s own web site appears to have been dark for most or all of this month.

And this is all happening as India’s struggle with the coronavirus pandemic hits a low point. Not only have many heavily-populated areas of the country been forced into lockdown in recent days, but the country seems to have spawned its own virus variant, which is raising concerns among scientists worldwide.

A major internet infrastructure crisis couldn’t come at a worse time, but ICANN not only could fix it now but could have prevented it years ago.

ICANN on February 26 told Net4 it would terminate the company’s Registrar Accreditation Agreement, after the company did not get its act together to fix three previous breach notices detailing its customers’ woes, the first of which was issued December 10.

That meant — or should have meant — that after March 13 ICANN would kick off its process of transferring Net4’s domains and customers to a third-party registrar, where none of this downtime nonsense would have occurred.

But the “resolution professional” trying to keep Net4 alive long enough to service its corporate creditors asked the insolvency court to ask ICANN to halt the termination, and the court complied.

Even though neither ICANN nor the court seems to be claiming that the court has any jurisdiction over a California non-profit and an RAA governed by California law, ICANN has nevertheless spent the last five weeks noticeably NOT terminating Net4 and saving its customers as promised.

Hedlund told the court (pdf) at the weekend:

Unfortunately, ICANN currently is not in a position to assist these individuals, businesses and organizations in transferring their domain names from Net 4 to another registrar because ICANN has no access to AuthInfo codes or the technical ability to generate them the way that registry operators, like the National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI), and registrars, like Net 4, can. Rather, ICANN can only assist these registrants by transitioning all of Net 4’s registrations to a functioning registrar through a bulk transfer in connection with ICANN’s termination of Net 4’s RAA, which ICANN has been prevented from doing as a result of this Hon’ble Tribunal’s Ad Interim Order of 16 March 2021

It’s not at all clear from the record why ICANN’s lawyers are allowing Net4’s customers to suffer — and its own compliance department to turn into a de facto replacement for Net4’s absentee customer service department — to abide by the suggestion of a court they claim has no power over it.

In fact, it’s not even clear why ICANN has been playing softball with Net4 since it first issued a breach notice against the firm in June 2019.

At that time, ICANN threatened to suspend Net4 for going into insolvency proceedings — the RAA gives it the right to do so unilaterally when “proceedings are instituted by or against Registrar under any bankruptcy, insolvency, reorganization or other laws relating to the relief of debtors”.

If it had wanted to, ICANN could have terminated Net4 and transferred its domains to a safe registrar in 2019, a year before its troubles (arguably exacerbated by the pandemic) started to cause serious problems for the registrar’s customers.

But ICANN did not act at that time. Instead, court filings and other documents suggest, it chose to cooperate with Net4 and the resolution professional, allowing Net4 to continue to market itself to new customers as an accredited registrar.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it’s something ICANN didn’t have in June 2019.

But now that we do have that luxury, surely we can say that the Net4 debacle is going to have to go down as one of ICANN’s all-time most humiliating and potentially dangerous failures.

ICANN threatens to seize gTLD after Whois downtime

Kevin Murphy, April 12, 2021, Domain Registries

Are we about to see our next gTLD registry implosion?

ICANN has whacked the company behind .gdn with a breach notice and a threat that it may seize the TLD, after its Whois systems allegedly suffered days of downtime.

According to ICANN, .gdn exceeded its weekly and monthly downtime limits in late March and early April, in both months triggering the threshold whereby ICANN is allowed to transition the TLD to an Emergency Back-End Registry Operator.

gTLD registries are allowed to have 864 minutes (about 14 hours) of unplanned Whois downtime per month. Downtime exceeding 24 hours per week is enough to trigger ICANN’s EBERO powers.

It appears to be the third time .gdn’s Whois has gone on the blink for longer than the permitted period — ICANN says it happened in April 2018 and August 2019 too. Those incidents were not publicized.

It seems the Russian registry, Joint Stock Company “Navigation-information systems”, managed to fix the problem on April 2, and ICANN is not invoking the EBERO transition, something it has done just a couple times before, just yet.

But it does want NIS to present it with a plan showing how it intends to avoid another spell of excessive downtime in future. It has until May 8, or ICANN may escalate.

.gdn is by most measures a bullshit TLD.

While it was originally intended to address some kind of satellite navigation niche, it eventually launched as a pure generic with the backronym “Global Domain Name” in 2016.

It managed to rack up over 300,000 registrations in the space of a year, almost all via disgraced and now-defunct registrar AlpNames, and was highlighted by SpamHaus as being one of the most spam-friendly of the new gTLDs.

After AlpNames went out of business two years ago, ICANN transferred some 350,000 .gdn names to CentralNic-owned registrar Key-Systems.

Today, Key-Systems has fewer than 300 .gdn domains. The TLD’s zone file dropped by about 290,000 domains in a single day last December.

.gdn had fewer than 11,000 domains under management at the end of 2020, 90% of which were registered through a Dubai-based registrar called Intracom Middle East FZE.

Intracom pretty much only sells .gdn domains, suggesting an affiliation with the registry.

Web searches for live sites using .gdn return not much more than what looks like porn spam.

A busted Whois looks like the least of its problems, to be honest.

As Net4 goes dark, NIXI says customers won’t lose their expired domains

Kevin Murphy, March 29, 2021, Domain Registrars

Indian ccTLD registry NIXI has thrown a life vest to the owners of some 73,000 .in domain names, giving them a way to transfer out of slowly sinking registrar Net 4 India.

NIXI also said that it will not cancel expired domains that registrants have been unable to renew due to Net4’s ongoing problems.

“NIXI has decided not to discontinue the .IN Services for those .IN domain end users whose renewal is due,” the company said in a statement (pdf).

It sounds rather like registrants will be able to renew directly with the registry. They’ll also be able to transfer to a new registrar by emailing NIXI from the address in the Whois or mailing proof of company identity.

Why NIXI has chosen to act now, when Net4’s troubles have been known for almost year, is not clear.

“In the recent days, NIXI was informed that Net 4 India, who is one of the registrars of NIXI for Country code domain “.IN” has some issues in maintaining domains,” its statement says.

Net4’s web site isn’t resolving right now, at least for me, which probably has something to do with it.

The company has been in insolvency proceedings since 2017, a fact ICANN discovered when it started missing payments two years ago, but it was not until mid-2020 that Net4’s customers started complaining en masse about problems renewing and transferring their domains.

ICANN has processed thousands of complaints since then.

The registrar was told last month that ICANN was terminating its accreditation to sell gTLDs. Registrants of names in .com for example should be pretty safe, with their names automatically transferred to a new registrar, should ICANN follow through on its threat.

The termination was challenged in the insolvency court shortly before it would have become effective two weeks ago.

While ICANN does not believe it is subject to the court’s jurisdiction, it has decided to wait for an official ruling on the matter.