Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

How NCC plans to revolutionize domain name security with .secure gTLD

The proposed .secure generic top-level domain is now officially contested, after NCC Group, best known in the domain industry for its data escrow services, announced a bid.

Newly formed NCC subsidiary Artemis Internet Inc, based in San Francisco, is the official applicant.

According to Artemis chief technology officer Alex Stamos, who co-founded security testing firm iSEC Partners and sold it to NCC for $22.8 million two years ago, this is a hard security play.

The .secure gTLD would be all about enforcing strict security policies on registrants, he said.

“Right now there are a lot of interesting security technologies out there, but they’re generally not very effective because they’re optional,” he said.

As well as premium pricing and a manual registrant verification process expected to take about two weeks – complete with mailing address confirmation and two-factor authentication tokens – Artemis plans to force registrants to adhere to certain baseline security policies.

For example, all .secure web sites would have to be completely HTTPS, Stamos said. The only permissible use of a standard port 80 URL would be to redirect to the encrypted site.

The same would go for mail servers – they’d all have to use TLS to encrypt email as standard.

“When you go to bank.secure you’ll know that the software and servers at the other end are going to make the most secure decisions possible,” Stamos said.

Artemis would scan its registrants’ sites for compliance with these baseline rules, looking out for things such as botched SSL implementations.

But Artmeis wants to take it a step further. It is also proposing a new protocol, Domain Policy Framework, which would let registrants publish their security policies in the DNS.

Stamos said the company has set up a Domain Policy Working Group to develop the spec, which it plans to submit to the IETF for standardization before the end of the year.

The other members of the working group, which promise to include some “influential” names in financial services, software and social media, will be announced in July.

DPF would work alongside the existing DNSSEC and DANE protocols to enable registrants to specify, for example, which Certificate Authorities browsers should trust when accessing their .secure domain, preventing certain types of attacks, Stamos said.

Obviously, this system is not going to work without support from browser software, but Stamos said he’s hopeful that the big vendors will embrace the DPF spec.

“The most innovative and forward-leaning browsers will support it first,” he said.

Domains in .secure would still be accessible by non-compliant browsers, he said.

ARI Registry Services has been hired to manage the back-end registry, but Artemis is also building a secondary registry system for storing the DPF records, which it plans to offer to other TLD registries.

NCC plans to invest up to £6 million ($9.7 million) in Artmeis over the next 15 months, according to a press release.

Another firm, Domain Security Company, also plans to apply for .secure.

Experts say piracy law will break the internet

Kevin Murphy, May 26, 2011, Domain Tech

Five of the world’s leading DNS experts have come together to draft a report slamming America’s proposed PROTECT IP Act, comparing it to the Great Firewall of China.

In a technical analysis of the bill’s provisions, the authors conclude that it threatens to weaken the security and stability of the internet, putting it at risk of fragmentation.

The bill (pdf), proposed by Senator Leahy, would force DNS server operators, such as ISPs, to intercept and redirect traffic destined for domains identified as hosting pirated content.

The new paper (pdf) says this behavior is easily circumvented, incompatible with DNS security, and would cause more problems than it solves.

The paper was written by: Steve Crocker, Shinkuro; David Dagon, Georgia Tech; Dan Kaminsky, DKH; Danny McPherson, Verisign and Paul Vixie of the Internet Systems Consortium.

These are some of the brightest guys in the DNS business. Three sit on ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee and Crocker is vice-chairman of ICANN’s board of directors.

One of their major concerns is that PROTECT IP’s filtering would be “fundamentally incompatible” with DNSSEC, the new security protocol that has been strongly embraced by the US government.

The authors note that any attempts to redirect domains at the DNS level would be interpreted as precisely the kind of man-in-the-middle attack that DNSSEC was designed to prevent.

They also point out that working around these filters would be easy – changing user DNS server settings to an overseas provider would be a trivial matter.

PROTECT IP’s DNS filtering will be evaded through trivial and often automated changes through easily accessible and installed software plugins. Given this strong potential for evasion, the long-term benefits of using mandated DNS filtering to combat infringement seem modest at best.

If bootleggers start using dodgy DNS servers in order to find file-sharing sites, they put themselves at risk of other types of criminal activity, the paper warns.

If piracy sites start running their own DNS boxes and end users start subscribing to them, what’s to stop them pharming users by capturing their bank or Paypal traffic, for example?

The paper also expresses concern that a US move to legitimize filtering could cause other nations to follow suit, fragmenting the mostly universal internet.

If the Internet moves towards a world in which every country is picking and choosing which domains to resolve and which to filter, the ability of American technology innovators to offer products and services around the world will decrease.

This, incidentally, is pretty much the same argument used to push for the rejection of the .xxx top-level domain (which Crocker voted for).

Domain security arrives in .com

Kevin Murphy, April 1, 2011, Domain Tech

VeriSign announced late yesterday that it has fully implemented DNSSEC in .com, meaning pretty much anyone with a .com domain name can now implement it too.

DNSSEC is a domain-crypto protocol mashup that allows web surfers, say, to trust that when they visit wellsfargo.com they really are looking at the bank’s web site.

It uses validatable cryptographic signatures to prevent cache poisoning attacks such as the Kaminsky Bug, the potential internet-killer that caused panic briefly back in 2008.

With .com now supporting the technology, DNSSEC is now available in over half of the world’s domains, due to the size of the .com zone. But registrants have to decide to use it.

I chatted to Matt Larson, VeriSign’s VP of DNS research, and Sean Leach, VP of technology, this afternoon, and they said that .com’s signing could be the tipping point for adoption.

“I feel based on talking to people that everybody has been waiting for .com,” Larson said. “It could open the floodgates.”

What we’re looking at now is a period of gradual adoption. I expect a handful of major companies will announce they’ve signed their .coms, probably in the second half of the year.

Just like a TLD launch, DNSSEC will probably need a few anchor tenants to raise the profile of the technology. Paypal, for example, said it plans to use the technology at an ICANN workshop in San Francisco last month, but that it will take about six months to test.

“Most people have their most valuable domains in the .com space,” said Leach. “We need some of the big guys to be first movers.”

There’s also the issue of ISPs. Not many support DNSSEC today. The industry has been talking up Comcast’s aggressive deployment vision for over a year now, but few others have announced plans.

And of course application developer support is needed. Judging from comments made by Mozilla representatives in San Francisco, browser makers, for example, are not exactly champing at the bit to natively support the technology.

You can, however, currently download plugins for Firefox that validate DNSSEC claims, such as this one.

According to Leach, many enterprises are currently demanding DNSSEC support when they buy new technology products. This could light a fire under reluctant developers.

But DNSSEC deployment will still be slow going, so registries are doing what they can to make it less of a cost/hassle for users.

Accredited registrars can currently use VeriSign’s cloud-based signing service for free on a trial basis, for example. The service is designed to remove the complexity of managing keys from the equation.

I’m told “several” registrars have signed up, but the only one I’m currently aware of is Go Daddy.

VeriSign and other registries are also offering managed DNSSEC as part of their managed DNS resolution enterprise offerings.

Neither of the VeriSign VPs was prepared to speculate about how many .com domains will be signed a year from now.

I have the option to turn on DNSSEC as part of a Go Daddy hosting package. I probably will, but only in the interests of research. As a domain consumer, I have to say the benefits haven’t really been sold to me yet.

Go Daddy’s new billion-dollar business?

Kevin Murphy, January 25, 2011, Domain Tech

Go Daddy has officially unveiled its Premium DNS service, which will enable its customers to buy and use managed DNSSEC services for the first time.

The price is $2.99 per month, which works out to $35.88 a year.

For the money, buyers also get a bunch of other tools, such as reports and audits, off-site DNS functionality and backup name servers.

There’s also a “Vanity Nameserver” option, which appears to let customers set their domain’s name servers to display as something like brand.domaincontrol.com, rather than ns1.domaincontrol.com.

It also appears that users of Go Daddy’s standard service will now be limited to 100 forwarded sub-domains, with Premium DNS users getting an unlimited number.

But the big deal as I see it is the addition of managed DNSSEC.

DNSSEC is a new security protocol that substantially mitigates the risk of falling prey to a DNS hijacking using, say, a cache poisoning attack.

Remember the Kaminsky Bug? DNSSEC prevents that kind of thing from happening again.

The problem with DNSSEC is that it’s massively complex and quite hard work to manage, requiring frequent key generation and rollover.

Go Daddy users can already manage their own DNSSEC records if they choose, but that’s only really an option if you’re a hard-core DNS geek.

Paying a few bucks a month to have somebody else manage it for you is an absolute bargain, if you care enough about your domain’s security.

I suggest that this could be a lucrative business for Go Daddy primarily because proponents of DNSSEC hope that one day it will be ubiquitous. Every domain will use it.

Go Daddy has over 45 million domains under management today. If customers representing only 1% of its domains choose to upgrade, that’s an extra $16 million into company coffers annually.

If they all do (which is not going to happen) we’re talking about a $1.6 billion business.

I don’t think the new service is going to lead to a massive uptick in the number of signed domains, but it will certainly get the ball rolling. For enterprises, it’s good value.

But individuals and large domain portfolio holders will not flock to return to 1999 .com prices just in order to implement a protocol they’ve been doing just fine without.

The future of broad DNSSEC adoption is more likely to be in open-source and freeware tools and services that can be easily understood by geeks and non-geeks alike.

Vixie takes on ISC chief scientist role

Kevin Murphy, January 7, 2011, Domain Tech

Internet Systems Consortium president Paul Vixie plans to address a “perfect storm” of internet addressing “crises” by becoming the organization’s chairman and chief scientist.

Vixie founded the not-for-profit ISC, which provides BIND – the software that runs most of the domain name system – in 1994. He will be replaced as president by Barry Greene.

Not known for mincing words, Vixie said in brief ISC statement today:

There are two huge technical crises arising simultaneously. The Internet is running out of address space and at the same time the level of criminal activity is increasing sharply. It’s the perfect storm. We need to deploy IPv6 and DNSSEC more or less simultaneously, and we need to develop and deploy, quickly, new technologies and new methodologies to measure and understand what is happening out there. I need to turn my full attention to these pressing and difficult problems, and I know that ISC will be in good hands with Barry as president.

VeriSign takes over .gov

Kevin Murphy, December 22, 2010, Domain Tech

VeriSign has taken over registry functions at .gov, the top-level domain for the US government.

IANA records show that VeriSign Global Registry Services was named technical contact for .gov possibly as recently as this Monday.

The TLD is still administratively delegated to the US General Services Administration. Google’s cache of the IANA site shows the GSA was the technical contact for .gov as recently as October 29.

VeriSign certainly kept this contract win quiet.

At least, the first I heard about it was tonight, in an email VeriSign sent to the dns-ops mailing list, asking DNS administrators to reconfigure their DNSSEC set-up to reflect the change.

A KSK [Key Signing Key] roll for the .gov zone will occur at the end of January, 2011. This key change is necessitated by a registry operator transition: VeriSign has been selected by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to operate the domain name registry for .gov.

The email expresses the urgency of making the changes, which are apparently needed in part because .gov was signed with DNSSEC before the root zone was signed, and some resolvers may be configured to use .gov as a “trust anchor” instead of the root.

The .gov TLD is reserved for the exclusive use of US federal and state government departments and agencies.

It’s certainly a prestige contract for VeriSign.

This appears to be the GSA page awarding the contract to VeriSign, in September, following an RFP. It’s valued at $3,325,000.

Go Daddy plans Premium DNS service

Kevin Murphy, December 13, 2010, Domain Tech

Go Daddy is to launch a Premium DNS service that will include managed DNSSEC security, the company revealed during sessions at the ICANN meeting in Cartagena last week.

Go Daddy customers can currently get a brief overview of the forthcoming service by logging into their domain manager and finding the Premium DNS “Coming Soon” link, or looking here.

During a session on DNSSEC in Colombia last week, Go Daddy’s James Bladel laid out more detail on the service in a presentation (PDF) which contains screenshots of the interface.

The company started supporting DNSSEC for free on certain TLDs in the summer – it currently supports .net, .biz, .eu, org and .us – but it requires users to manually generate and manage cryptographic keys.

That’s beyond the ken of most domain name owners, so the registrar is adding a premium “set it and forget it” service which will see Go Daddy manage the complexities of DNSSEC.

Bladel said of the service:

it’s as simple as having a DNSSEC on/off switch. So customers who have no particular interest in the behind- the-scenes technology of DNSSEC can simply flip that switch and then enjoy the benefits of a secured domain name.

The DNSSEC standard helps prevent domains being hijacked through cache poisoning attacks by signing each domain’s zone with a validatable cryptographic key. The technology will be available for .com domains early next year.

It’s by no means free or easy for registrars to implement, and there’s been little demand for the technology among registrants, so I’ve been wondering how registrars planned to monetize it.

Now we know how Go Daddy at least plans to do so – the Premium DNS service will have other benefits beyond DNSSEC, which could spur adoption through osmosis.

The service will also include DNS up-time guarantees of 99.999%, vanity name servers, log tracking, and several other perks.

The company has not officially announced the service to customers yet, so I expect we’ll find out more details in due course.

VeriSign launches free cloud domain security service

Kevin Murphy, December 2, 2010, Domain Tech

VeriSign is to offer registrars a hosted DNSSEC signing service that will be free for names in .com and the company’s other top-level domains.

The inventively named VeriSign DNSSEC Signing Service offloads the tasks associated with managing signed domains and is being offered for an “evaluation period” that runs until the end of 2011.

DNSSEC is an extension to DNS that allows domains to be cryptographically signed and validated. It was designed to prevent cache poisoning attacks such as the Kaminsky Bug.

It’s also quite complex, requiring ongoing secure key management and rollover, so I expect the VeriSign service, and competing services, will be quite popular among registrars reluctant to plough money into the technology.

While some gTLDs, including .org, and dozens of ccTLDs, are already DNSSEC-enabled, VeriSign doesn’t plan on bringing the technology online in .com and .net until early next year.

The ultimate industry plan is for all domain names to use DNSSEC before too many years.

One question I’ve never been entirely clear on was whether the added costs of implementing DNSSEC would translate into premium-priced services or price increases at the registrar checkout.

A VeriSign spokesperson told me:

The evaluation period is free for VeriSign-managed TLDs and other TLDs. After that period, the VeriSign-managed TLDs will remain free, but other TLDs will have $2 per zone annual fee.

In other words, registrars will not have to pay to sign their customers’ .com, .net, .tv etc domains, but they will have to pay if they choose to use the VeriSign service to sign domains in .biz, .info or any other TLD.

VeriSign to deploy DNSSEC in .com next March

Kevin Murphy, October 29, 2010, Domain Tech

VeriSign is to start rolling out the DNSSEC security protocol in .net today, and will sign .com next March, the company said today.

In an email to the dns-ops mailing list, VeriSign vice president Matt Larson said that .net will get a “deliberately unvalidatable zone”, which uses unusable dummy keys for testing purposes, today.

That test is set to end on December 9, when .net will become fully DNSSEC-compatible.

The .com TLD will get its own unvalidatable zone in March, but registrars will be able to start submitting cryptographic keys for the domains they manage from February.

The .com zone will be validatable later in March.

The DNSSEC standard allows resolvers to confirm that DNS traffic has not been tampered with, reducing the risk of attacks such as cache poisoning.

Signing .com is viewed as the last major registry-level hurdle to jump before adoption kicks off more widely. The root zone was signed in July and a few dozen other TLDs, such as .org, are already signed.

DNSSEC to kill the ISP wildcard?

Kevin Murphy, October 19, 2010, Domain Tech

Comcast is to switch off its Domain Helper service, which captures DNS error traffic and presents surfers with sponsored search results instead, as part of its DNSSEC implementation.

The ISP said yesterday that it has started to roll out the new security mechanism to its production DNS servers across the US and expects to have all customers using DNSSEC by the “early part of 2011”.

The deployment will come in two phases. The first phase, expected to last 60 days, sees DNSSEC turned on for subscribers who have previously opted out of the Domain Helper system.

After that, Comcast will continue the rollout to all of its customers, which will involve killing off the Domain Helper service for good.

As the company says in its FAQ:

# We believe that the web error redirection function of Comcast Domain Helper is technically incompatible with DNSSEC.
# Comcast has always known this and plans to turn off such redirection when DNSSEC is fully implemented.
# The production network DNSSEC servers do not have Comcast Domain Helper’s DNS redirect functionality enabled.

When web users try to visit a non-existent domain, DNS normally supplies a “does-not-exist” reply. Over recent years it has become increasingly common for ISPs to intercept this response and show users a monetized search page instead.

But DNSSEC introduces new anti-spoofing features that require such responses to be cryptographically signed. This, it seems, means ISPs will no longer be able to intercept and monetize error traffic without interfering with the end-to-end functionality of DNSSEC.

Comcast, which has been trialing the technology with volunteers for most of the year, says that to do so “breaks the chain of trust critical to proper DNSSEC validation functionality”.

It looks like it’s the beginning of the end of the ISP error wildcard. That’s got to be a good thing, right?