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DNS Namespace Collisions: Detection and Response [Guest Post]

Jeff Schmidt, November 28, 2013, Domain Tech

Those tracking the namespace collision issue in Buenos Aries heard a lot regarding the potential response scenarios and capabilities. Because this is an important, deep, and potentially controversial topic, we wanted to get some ideas out early on potential solutions to start the conversation.

Since risk can almost never be driven to zero, a comprehensive approach to risk management contains some level of a priori risk mitigation combined with investment in detection and response capabilities.

In my city of Chicago, we tend to be particularly sensitive about fires. In Chicago, like in most cities, we have a priori protection in the form of building codes, detection in the form of smoke/fire alarms, and response in the form of 9-1-1, sprinklers, and the very capable Chicago Fire Department.

Let’s think a little about what the detection and response capabilities might look like for DNS namespace collisions.

Detection: How do we know there is a problem?

Rapid detection and diagnosis of problems helps to both reduce damage and reduce the time to recovery. Physical security practitioners invest considerably in detection, typically in the form of guards and sensors.

Most meteorological events are detected (with some advance warning) through the use of radars and predictive modeling. Information security practitioners are notoriously light with respect to systematic detection, but we’re getting better!

If there are problematic DNS namespace collisions, the initial symptoms will almost certainly appear through various IT support mechanisms, namely corporate IT departments and the support channels offered by hardware/software/service vendors and Internet Service Providers.

When presented with a new and non-obvious problem, professional and non-professional IT practitioners alike will turn to Internet search engines for answers. This suggests that a good detection/response investment would be to “seed” support vendors/fora with information/documentation about this issue in advance and in a way that will surface when IT folks begin troubleshooting.

We collectively refer to such documentation as “self-help” information. ICANN has already begun developing documentation designed to assist IT support professionals with namespace-related issues.

In the same way that radar gives us some idea where a meteorological storm might hit, we can make reasonable predictions about where issues related to DNS namespace collisions are most likely to first appear.

While problems could appear anywhere, we believe it is most likely that scenarios involving remote (“road warrior”) use cases, branch offices/locations, and Virtual Private Networks are the best places to focus advance preparation.

This educated guess is based on the observation that DNS configurations in these use cases are often brittle due to complexities associated with dynamic and/or location-dependent parameters. Issues may also appear in Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) with limited IT sophistication.

This suggests that proactively reaching out to vendors and support mechanisms with a footprint in those areas would also be a wise investment.

Response: Options, Roles, and Responsibilities

In the vast majority of expected cases, the IT professional “detectors” will also be the “responders” and the issue will be resolved without involving other parties. However, let’s consider the situations where other parties may be expected to have a role in response.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that an Internet user is experiencing a problem related to a DNS namespace collision. I use the term “Internet user” broadly as any “consumer” of the global Internet DNS.

At this point in the thought experiment, let’s disregard the severity of the problem. The affected party (or parties) will likely exercise the full range of typical IT support options available to them – vendors, professional support, IT savvy friends and family, and Internet search.

If any of these support vectors are aware of ICANN, they may choose to contact ICANN at any point. Let’s further assume the affected party is unable and/or unwilling to correct the technical problem themselves and ICANN is contacted – directly or indirectly.

There is a critical fork in the road here: Is the expectation that ICANN provide technical “self-help” information or that ICANN will go further and “do something” to technically remedy the issue for the user? The scope of both paths needs substantial consideration.

For the rest of this blog, I want to focus on the various “do something” options. I see a few options; they aren’t mutually exclusive (one could imagine an escalation through these and potentially other options). The options are enumerated for discussion only and order is not meaningful.

  • Option 1: ICANN provides technical support above and beyond “self-help” information to the impacted parties directly, including the provision of services/experts. Stated differently, ICANN becomes an extension of the impacted party’s IT support structure and provides customized/specific troubleshooting and assistance.
  • Option 2: The Registry provides technical support above and beyond “self-help” information to the impacted parties directly, including the provision of services/experts. Stated differently, the Registry becomes an extension of the impacted party’s IT support structure and provides customized/specific troubleshooting and assistance.
  • Option 3: ICANN forwards the issue to the Registry with a specific request to remedy. In this option, assuming all attempts to provide “self-help” are not successful, ICANN would request that the Registry make changes to their zone to technically remedy the issue. This could include temporary or permanent removal of second level names and/or other technical measures that constitute a “registry-level rollback” to a “last known good” configuration.
  • Option 4: ICANN initiates a “root-level rollback” procedure to revert the state of the root zone to a “last known good” configuration, thus (presumably) de-delegating the impacted TLD. In this case, ICANN would attempt – on an emergency basis – to revert the root zone to a state that is not causing harm to the impacted party/parties. Root-level rollback is an impactful and potentially controversial topic and will be the subject of a follow-up blog.

One could imagine all sorts of variations on these options, but I think these are the basic high-level degrees of freedom. We note that ICANN’s New gTLD Collision Occurrence Management Plan and SAC062 contemplate some of these options in a broad sense.

Some key considerations:

  • In the broader sense, what are the appropriate roles and responsibilities for all parties?
  • What are the likely sources to receive complaints when a collision has a deleterious effect?
  • What might the Service Level Agreements look like in the above options? How are they monitored and enforced?
  • How do we avoid the “cure is worse than the disease” problem – limiting the harm without increasing risk of creating new harms and unintended consequences?
  • How do we craft the triggering criteria for each of the above options?
  • How are the “last known good” configurations determined quickly, deterministically, and with low risk?
  • Do we give equal consideration to actors that are following the technical standards vs. those depending on technical happenstance for proper functionality?
  • Are there other options we’re missing?

On Severity of the Harm

Obviously, the severity of the harm can’t be ignored. Short of situations where there is a clear and present danger of bodily harm, severity will almost certainly be measured economically and from multiple points of view. Any party expected to “do something” will be forced to choose between two or more economically motivated actors: users, Registrants, Registrars, and/or Registries experiencing harm.

We must also consider that just as there may be users negatively impacted by new DNS behavior, there may also be users that are depending on the new DNS behavior. A fair and deterministic way to factor severity into the response equation is needed, and the mechanism must be compatible with emergency invocation and the need for rapid action.

Request for Feedback

There is a lot here, which is why we’ve published this early in the process. We eagerly await your ideas, feedback, pushback, corrections, and augmentations.

This is a guest post written by Jeff Schmidt, CEO of JAS Global Advisors LLC. JAS is currently authoring a “Name Collision Occurrence Management Framework” for the new gTLD program under contract with ICANN.

Google’s first new gTLD hits the root

Kevin Murphy, November 28, 2013, Domain Registries

Google has become the latest new gTLD registry with a string live in the DNS root.

Its .みんな — Japanese for “everyone” — was delegated by ICANN last night. The URL nic.みんな resolves already to charlestonroadregistry.com, the name of Google’s registry subsidiary.

Google plans to operate it as an open, unrestricted namespace, aimed at Japanese-speaking registrants.

It’s the fifth internationalized domain name to go live and one of only three IDN applications from Google.

Google has 96 more active new gTLD applications, 57 of which are contested.

ICANN cans “Spam King” registrar

Kevin Murphy, November 26, 2013, Domain Registrars

ICANN has terminated the registrar accreditation of Dynamic Dolphin, which it turned out was owned by self-professed “Spam King” Scott Richter.

The company has until December 20 to take down its ICANN logo and cease acting as a registrar.

ICANN, in its termination notice (pdf) late last week, said that it only became aware earlier this month that Richter was the 100% owner of Dynamic Dolphin.

Richter grew to fame a decade ago for being one of the world’s highest-profile spammers. He was sued for spamming by Microsoft and Myspace and was featured on the popular TV program The Daily Show.

As well as being a thoroughly unpleasant chap, he has a 2003 conviction for grand larceny, which should disqualify him from being the director of an ICANN-accredited registrar.

He removed himself as an officer on October 9 in response to ICANN’s persistent inquiries, according to ICANN’s compliance notice.

But he was much too late. ICANN has terminated the accreditation due to the “material misrepresentation, material inaccuracy, or materially misleading statement in its application”.

The question now has to be asked: why didn’t ICANN get to this sooner? In fact, why was Dynamic Dolphin allowed to get an accreditation in the first place?

Former Washington Post security reporter Brian Krebs has been all over this story for five years.

Back in 2008, with a little help from anti-spam outfit KnujOn, he outed Richter’s links to Dynamic Dolphin when it was just a Directi reseller.

Yesterday, Krebs wrote a piece on his blog going into a lot of the background.

Another question now is: which registrar is going to risk taking over Dynamic Dolphin’s registrations?

As of the last registry reports, Dynamic Dolphin had fewer than 25,000 gTLD domains under management.

According to ICANN’s termination notice, 13,280 of these use the company’s in-house privacy service, and 9,933 of those belong to just three individuals.

According to DomainTools, “Dynamic Dolphin Inc” is listed as the registrant for about 23,000 names.

According to KnujOn’s research and Krebs’s reporting, the registrar was once among the most spam-friendly on the market.

Could new gTLD auctions last until April 2016?

Kevin Murphy, November 26, 2013, Domain Registries

April 2016. That’s the likely date of the final new gTLD contention set auction under the rules currently anticipated by ICANN.

As you might imagine, many applicants are not happy about this.

In a series of presentations over the last couple of weeks, ICANN has laid out how it sees its “last resort” auctions playing out.

Preliminary timetables have been sketched out, from which three data points are noteworthy:

  • Auctions will start in “early March” 2014.
  • There will be one “auction event” every four weeks.
  • Applicants can bid on a maximum of five gTLDs per auction.

Currently, the applicant in the most contention sets is Donuts, as you might have guessed given the size of its portfolio. By my reckoning it’s currently contesting 141 gTLD strings.

With a March 1 date for the first auction, and taking into account the aforementioned timing restrictions, it would be April 23, 2016 before the final Donuts contention set is resolved.

That’s four years after the application window closed.

Google would be in auctions until January 2015. TLDH, Uniregistry and Amazon’s contested strings would be tied up until at least October next year.

This is obviously terrible news for applicants competing with portfolio applicants where the contention set has quite a high position in ICANN’s prioritization queue.

A year or two is a long time to wait — burning through your funding and not taking in any revenue — if you’re a single-string applicant on a tight budget. Every dollar spent waiting is a dollar less to spend at auction.

According to ICANN, applicants will be able to waive the five-gTLDs-per-month maximum.

But that only seems to help the larger portfolio applicants, which will be seeing revenue from launched, uncontested gTLDs and could take the opportunity to starve out their smaller rivals.

Auctions themselves are shaping up to be a controversial subject in general, with several community members taking the mic at the ICANN 48 Public Forum last week to call for ICANN to change the process.

A few people pointed the ICANN board to the recent withdrawal of DotGreen — a popular but evidently poorly funded community effort — from the new gTLD program as a harbinger of things to come.

“By not allowing applicants to be in more than five auctions simultaneously it means those applicants, particularly portfolio applicants, are not going to be able to move through their contention sets,” Google policy manager Sarah Falvey said at the Forum.

“It drags in all the single applicants, because they’re stuck on that exact same time schedule and can’t move their applications through as well,” she said, adding that ICANN should create a new process that sets the time limit for auctions at about six months.

“People could be waiting two years to delegate through no fault of their own,” she said.

Later responding to Afilias director Jonathan Robinson, who backed up Falvey’s call for an accelerated schedule, ICANN president of generic domains Akram Atallah said that the rules are not yet set in stone.

The five-a-day rule was created to give applicants the ability to plan payments better, he said, and ICANN is still soliciting input on how the system could be improved.

First English new gTLD Sunrise periods start today

Kevin Murphy, November 26, 2013, Domain Registries

Donuts today kicks off the Sunrise periods for its first seven new gTLDs, the first English-language strings to start their priority registration periods for trademark owners.

The big question for mark holders today is whether to participate in Sunrise, or whether Donuts’ proprietary Domain Protected Marks List is the more cost-efficient way to go.

Sunrise starts today and runs until January 24 for .bike, .clothing, .guru, .holdings, .plumbing, .singles and .ventures. Donuts is planning seven more for December 3.

These are “end-date” Sunrises, meaning that no domains are awarded to participants until the full 60-day period is over. It’s not first-come, first-served, in other words.

Where more than one application for any given domain is received, Donuts will hold an auction after Sunrise closes to decide who gets to register the name.

The primary requirement for participating in Sunrise is, per ICANN’s base rules, that the trademark has been submitted to and validated by the Trademark Clearinghouse.

Donuts is not enforcing additional eligibility rules.

The company has not published its wholesale Sunrise application fee, but registrars have revealed some details.

Com Laude said that the Donuts “Sunrise Participation Fee” is $80, which will be the same across all of its gTLDs. Registrars seem to be marking this up by about 50%.

Tucows, for example, is asking its OpenSRS resellers for $120 per name, with an additional first-year reg fee ranging between $20 and $45 depending on gTLD.

Lexsynergy, which yesterday reported on Twitter a spike in TMCH submissions ahead of today’s launch, is charging between £91 ($147) and £99 ($160) for the application and first year combined.

The question for Trademark Owners is whether they should participate in the alternative Domain Protected Marks List or not.

The DPML is likely to be much cheaper for companies that want to protect a lot of marks across a lot of Donuts gTLDs.

A five-year DPML fee can be around $3,000, which works out to $3 per domain per year if Donuts winds up with 200 gTLDs in its portfolio.

Companies will not be able to actually use the domains blocked by the DPML, however, so it only makes sense for a wholly defensive blocking strategy.

In addition, DPML does not prevent a eligible mark owner from registering a DPML domain during Sunrise.

A policy Donuts calls “DPML Override” means that if somebody else owns a matching trademark, in any jurisdiction, they’ll be able to get “your” domain even if you’ve paid for a DPML entry.

I should point out that Donuts is simply following ICANN rules here. There are few ways for new gTLD registries to make names ineligible for Sunrise within their contracts.

Trademark owners are therefore going to have to decide whether it’s worth the risk of sticking to a strictly DPML strategy, or whether it might make more sense to do Sunrise on their most mission-critical marks.

DotShabaka Registry was the first new gTLD operator to go to Sunrise, with شبكة., though the lack of Arabic strings in the TMCH means it’s largely an exercise in contractual compliance.