ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee has told ICANN it needs to do more to address the problem of name collisions before it approves any more new gTLDs.
In its latest advisory (pdf), published just before Christmas, SSAC says ICANN is not doing enough to coordinate with other technical bodies that are asserting authority over “special use” TlDs.
The SAC090 paper appears to be an attempt to get ICANN to further formalize its relationship with the Internet Engineering Task Force as it pertains to reserved TLDs:
The SSAC recommends that the ICANN Board of Directors take appropriate steps to establish definitive and unambiguous criteria for determining whether or not a syntactically valid domain name label could be a top-level domain name in the global DNS.
Pursuant to its finding that lack of adequate coordination among the activities of different groups contributes to domain namespace instability, the SSAC recommends that the ICANN Board of Directors establish effective means of collaboration on these issues with relevant groups outside of ICANN, including the IETF.
The paper speaks to at least two ongoing debates.
First, should ICANN approve .home and .corp?
These two would-be gTLDs were applied for by multiple parties in 2012 but have been on hold since August 2013 following an independent report into name collisions.
Names collisions are generally cases in which ICANN delegates a TLD to the public DNS that is already broadly used on private networks. This clash can result in the leakage of private data.
.home and .corp are by a considerable margin the two strings most likely to be affected by this problem, with .mail also seeing substantial volume.
But in recent months .home and .corp applicants have started to put pressure on ICANN to resolve the issue and release their applications from limbo.
The second incident the SSAC paper speaks to is the reservation in 2015 of .onion
If you’re using a browser on the privacy-enhancing Tor network, .onion domains appear to you to work exactly the same as domains in any other gTLDs, but under the hood they don’t use the public ICANN-overseen DNS.
The IETF gave .onion status as a “Special Use Domain“, in order to prevent future collisions, which caused ICANN to give it the same restricted status as .example, .localhost and .test.
But there was quite a lot of hand-wringing within the IETF before this status was granted, with some worrying that the organization was stepping on ICANN’s authority.
The SSAC paper appears to be designed at least partially to encourage ICANN to figure out how much it should take its lead from the IETF in this respect. It asks:
The IETF is an example of a group outside of ICANN that maintains a list of “special use” names. What should ICANN’s response be to groups outside of ICANN that assert standing for their list of special names?
For members of the new gTLD industry, the SSAC paper may be of particular importance because it raises the possibility of delays to subsequent rounds of the program if ICANN does not spell out more formally how it handles special use TLDs.
“The SSAC recommends that ICANN complete this work before making any decision to add new TLD names to the global DNS,” it says.
ICANN should lift the freeze on new gTLDs .mail, .home and .corp, despite fears they could cause widespread disruption, according to applicants.
Fifteen applicants for the strings wrote to ICANN last week to ask for a risk mitigation plan that would allow them to be delegated.
The three would-be gTLDs were put on hold indefinitely almost three years ago, after studies determined that they were at risk of causing far more “name collision” problems than other strings.
If they were to start resolving on the internet, the fear is they would lead to problems ranging from data leakage to systems simply stopping working properly.
Name collisions are something all new TLDs run the risk of creating, but .home, .corp and .mail are believed to be particularly risky due to the sheer number of private networks that use them as internal namespaces.
My own ISP, which has millions of subscribers, uses .home on its home hub devices, for example. Many companies use .corp and .mail on their LANs, due to longstanding advice from Microsoft and the IETF that it was safe to do so.
A 2013 study (pdf) showed that .home received almost 880 million DNS queries over a 48-hour period, while .corp received over 110 million.
That was vastly more than other non-existent TLDs.
For example, .prod (which some organizations use to mean “production”) got just 5.3 million queries over the same period, and when Google got .prod delegated two years it prompted an angry backlash from inconvenienced admins.
While .mail wasn’t quite on the same scale as the other two, third-party studies determined that it posed similar risks to .home and .corp.
All three were put on hold indefinitely. ICANN said it would ask the IETF to consider making them officially reserved strings.
Now the applicants, noting the lack of IETF movement to formally freeze the strings, want ICANN to work on a thawing plan.
“Rather than continued inaction, ICANN owes applicants for .HOME, .CORP, and .MAIL and the public a plan to mitigate any risks and a proper pathway forward for these TLDs,” the applicants told ICANN (pdf) last Wednesday.
A December 2015 study found that name collisions have occurred in new gTLDs, but that no truly serious problems have been caused.
That does not mean .home, .corp and .mail would be safe to delegate, however.
The introduction of new gTLDs posed no risk to human life.
That’s the conclusion of JAS Advisors, the consulting company that has been working with ICANN on the issue of DNS name collisions.
It is final report “Mitigating the Risk of DNS Namespace Collisions”, published last night, JAS described the response to the “controlled interruption” mechanism it designed as “annoyed but understanding and generally positive”.
New text added since the July first draft says: “ICANN has received fewer than 30 reports of disruptive collisions since the first delegation in October of 2013. None of these reports have reached the threshold of presenting a danger to human life.”
That’s a reference to Verisign’s June 2013 claim that name collisions could disrupt “life-supporting” systems such as those used by emergency response services.
Names collisions, you will recall, are scenarios in which a newly delegated TLD matches a string that it is already used widely on internal networks.
Such scenarios could (and have) led to problems such as system failure and DNS queries leaking on to the internet.
The applied-for gTLDs .corp and .home have been effectively banned, due to the vast numbers of organizations already using them.
All other gTLDs were obliged, following JAS recommendations, to redirect all non-existent domains to 127.0.53.53, an IP address chosen to put network administrators in mind of port 53, which is used by the DNS protocol.
As we reported a little over a year ago, many administrators responded swearily to some of the first collisions.
JAS says in its final report:
Over the past year, JAS has monitored technical support/discussion fora in search of posts related to controlled interruption and DNS namespace collisions. As expected, controlled interruption caused some instances of limited operational issues as collision circumstances were encountered with new gTLD delegations. While some system administrators expressed frustration at the difficulties, overall it appears that controlled interruption in many cases is having the hoped-for outcome. Additionally, in private communication with a number of firms impacted by controlled interruption, JAS would characterize the overall response as “annoyed but understanding and generally positive” – some even expressed appreciation as issues unknown to them were brought to their attention.
There are a number of other substantial additions to the report, largely focusing on types of use cases JAS believes are responsible for most name collision traffic.
Oftentimes, such as the random 10-character domains Google’s Chrome browser uses for configuration purposes, the collision has no ill effect. In other cases, the local system administrators were forced to remedy their software to avoid the collision.
The report also reveals that the domain name corp.com, which is owned by long-time ICANN volunteer Mikey O’Connor, receives a “staggering” 30 DNS queries every second.
That works out to almost a billion (946,728,000) queries per year, coming when a misconfigured system or inexperienced user attempts to visit a .corp domain name.
New gTLDs could be in jeopardy following the results of a study into the security risks they may pose.
ICANN is likely to be told to put in place measures to mitigate the risk of new gTLDs causing problems, and chief security officer Jeff Moss said “deadlines will have to move” if global DNS resolution is put at risk.
His comments referred to the potential for clashes between applied-for new gTLD strings and non-existent TLDs that are nevertheless already widely used on internal networks.
That’s a problem that has been increasingly highlighted by Verisign in recent months. The difference here is that the study’s author does not have a .com monopoly to protect.
Interisle Consulting, which has been hired by ICANN to look into the problem, today released some of its preliminary findings during a session at the ICANN 47 meeting in Durban, South Africa.
The company looked at domain name look-up data collected from one of the DNS root servers over a 48-hour period, in an attempt to measure the potential scope of the clash problem.
Some of its findings are surprising:
- Of the 1,408 strings originally applied for in the current new gTLD round, only 14 do not currently have any root traffic.
- Three percent of all requests were for strings that have been applied for in the current round.
- A further 19% of requests were for strings that could potentially be applied for in future rounds (that is, the TLD was syntactically well-formed and not a banned string such as .local).
- .home, the most frequently requested invalid TLD, received over a billion queries over the 48-hour period. That’s compared to 8.5 billion for .com
Here’s a list of the top 17 invalid TLDs by traffic, taken from Interisle’s presentation (pdf) today.
If the list had been of the top 100 requested TLDs, 13 of them would have been strings that have been applied for in the current round, Interisle CEO Lyman Chapin said in the session.
Here’s the most-queried applied-for strings:
Chapin was quick to point out that big numbers do not necessarily equate to big security problems.
“Just occurrence doesn’t tell you a lot about whether that’s a good thing, a bad thing, a neutral thing, it just tells you how often the string appears,” he said.
“An event that occurs very frequently but has no negative side effects is one thing, an event that occurs very infrequently but has a really serious side effect, like a meteor strike — it’s always a product of those two factors that leads you to an assessment of risk,” he said.
For example, the reason .ice appears prominently on the list appears to be solely due to an electricity producer in Costa Rica, which “for some reason is blasting .ice requests out to the root”, Chapin said.
If the bad requests are only coming from a small number of sources, that’s a relatively simple problem to sort out — you just call up the guy responsible and tell him to sort out his network.
In cases like .home, where much of the traffic is believed to be coming from millions of residential DSL routers, that’s a much trickier problem.
The reverse is also true, however: a small number of requests doesn’t necessarily mean a low-impact risk.
There may be a relatively small number of requests for .hospital, for example, but if the impact is even a single life support machine blinking off… probably best not delegate that gTLD.
Chapin said that the full report, which ICANN said could be published in about two weeks, does contain data on the number of sources of requests for each invalid TLD. Today’s presentation did not, however.
As well as the source of the request, the second-level domains being requested is also an important factor, but it does not seem to have been addressed by this study.
For example, .home may be getting half a billion requests a day, but if all of those requests are for bthomehub.home — used today by the British ISP BT in its residential routers — the .home registry might be able to eliminate the risk of data leakage by simply giving BT that domain.
Likewise, while .hsbc appears on the list it’s actually been applied for by HSBC as a single-registrant gTLD, so the risk of delegating it to the DNS root may be minimal.
There was no data on second-level domains in today’s presentation and it does not appear that the full Interisle report contains it either. More study may be needed.
Donuts CEO Paul Stahura also took to the mic to asked Chapin whether he’d compared the invalid TLD requests to requests for invalid second-level domains in, say, .com. He had not.
One of Stahura’s arguments, which were expounded at length in the comment thread on this DI blog post, is that delegating TLDs with existing traffic is little different to allowing people to register .com domains with existing traffic.
So what are Interisle’s recommendations likely to be?
Judging by today’s presentation, the company is going to present a list of risk-mitigation options that are pretty similar to what Verisign has previously recommended.
For example, some strings could be permanently banned, or there could be a “trial run” — what Verisign called an “ephemeral delegation” — for each new gTLD to test for impact before full delegation.
It seems to me that if the second-level request data was available, more mitigation options would be opened up.
ICANN chief security officer Jeff Moss, who was on today’s panel, was asked what he would recommend to ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade today in light of the report’s conclusions.
“I am not going to recommend we do anything that has any substantial SSR impact,” said Moss. “If we find any show-stoppers, if we find anything that suggests impact for global DNS, we won’t do it. It’s not worth the risk.”
Without prompting, he addressed the risk of delay to the new gTLD program.
“People sometimes get hung up on the deadline, ‘How will you know before the deadline?’,” he said. “Well, deadlines can move. If there’s something we find that is a show-stopper, deadlines will have to move.”
The full report, expected to be published in two weeks, will be opened for public comment, ICANN confirmed.
Assuming the report is published on time and has a 30-day comment period, that brings us up to the beginning of September, coincidentally the same time ICANN expects the first new gTLD to be delegated.
ICANN certainly likes to play things close to the whistle.
The Association of National Advertisers has seized upon Verisign’s recent report into the security risks of ICANN’s new gTLD timetable to call for delays to the program.
In a blog post yesterday, ANA vice president Dan Jaffe said ICANN’s dismissal of the surprising Verisign letter is “like the Captain of the Titanic before the crash saying that the dangers of icebergs had been discussed for years.”
The post highlights the lack of finalized Trademark Clearinghouse specs as “one of the greatest concerns”, saying “millions of customers are the ones who will face harm”.
That’s not strictly true, of course. New gTLD registries are contractually unable to launch until the TMCH is ready, so the risk of registrants being harmed by the lack of specs today is a non-starter.
The ANA also points to ongoing concerns about proposed TLDs such as .corp and .home, which run the risk of clashing with existing private TLDs used on internal corporate and ISP networks.
It’s on much firmer ground here. If a user tries to access a LAN resource on a .corp domain while roaming, what’s to stop them sending sensitive data to a third-party web site instead?
I’ve yet to see a compelling reason why this is not a problem, but it’s not yet known whether the many applications for .corp, .home and similar strings have passed their ICANN technical evaluations.
The ICANN application form asked applicants to disclose potential operational problems such as these, but some applicants that were very familiar with the problem decided not to do so.
But the ANA’s main concern is its belief that new gTLDs will increase cybersquatting and increase the cost of defensive registrations, of course.
“Adequate steps have not been taken to protect Internet users, and we are headed toward uncharted waters with major danger to consumers, brandholders, and the Internet itself,” Jaffe wrote.
“The only prudent action for ICANN now is to delay this arbitrary domain name roll-out until it has fixed these very serious problems.”