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Concern as ICANN shuts down “independent” security review

Kevin Murphy, October 31, 2017, Domain Policy

Just a year after gaining its independence from the US government, ICANN has come under scrutiny over concerns that its board of directors may have overstepped its powers.

The board has come in for criticism from almost everyone expressing an opinion at the ICANN 60 meeting in Abu Dhabi this week, after it temporarily suspended a supposedly independent security review.

The Security, Stability and Resiliency of the DNS Review, known as SSR-2, is one of the mandatory reviews that got transferred into ICANN’s bylaws after the Affirmation of Commitments with the US wound up last year.

The review is supposed to look at ICANN’s “execution of its commitment to enhance the operational stability, reliability, resiliency, security, and global interoperability of the systems and processes, both internal and external, that directly affect and/or are affected by the Internet’s system of unique identifiers that ICANN coordinates”.

The 14 to 16 volunteer members have been working for about eight months, but at the weekend the ICANN board pulled the plug, saying in a letter to the review team that it had decided “to suspend the review team’s work” and said its work “should be paused”.

Chair Steve Crocker clarified in sessions over the weekend and yesterday that it was a direction, not a request, but that the pause was merely “a moment to take stock and then get started again”.

Incoming chair Cherine Chalaby said in various sessions today and yesterday that the community — which I take to mean the leaders of the various interest groups — is now tasked with un-pausing the work.

Incoming vice-chair Chris Disspain told community leaders in an email (pdf) yesterday:

The Board has not usurped the community’s authority with respect to this review. Rather, we are asking the SOs and ACs to consider the concerns we have heard and determine whether or not adjustments are needed. We believe that a temporary pause in the SSR2 work while this consideration is under way is a sensible approach designed to ensure stakeholders can reach a common understanding on the appropriate scope and work plan

Confusion has nevertheless arise among community members, and some serious concerns and criticisms have been raised by commercial and non-commercial interests — including governments — over the last few days in Abu Dhabi.

But the board’s concerns with the work of SSR-2 seem to date back a few months, to the Johannesburg meeting in June, at which Crocker said “dangerous signals” were observed.

It’s not clear what he was referring to there, but the first serious push-back by ICANN came earlier this month, when board liaison Kaveh Ranjbar, apparently only appointed to that role in June, emailed the group to say it was over-stepping its mandate.

Basically, the SSR-2 group’s plan to carry out a detailed audit of ICANN’s internal security profile seems to have put the willies up the ICANN organization and board.

Ranjbar wrote:

The areas the Board is concerned with are areas that indeed raise important organizational information security and organizational oversight questions. However, these are also areas that are not segregated for community review, and are the responsibility of the ICANN Organization (through the CEO) to perform under the oversight of the ICANN Board.

While we support the community in receiving information necessary to perform a full and meaningful review over ICANN’s SSR commitments, there are portions of the more detailed “audit” plan that do not seem appropriate for in-depth investigation by the subgroup. Maintaining a plan to proceed with detailed assessments of these areas is likely to result in recommendations that are not tethered to the scope of the SSR review, and as such, may not be appropriate for Board acceptance when recommendations are issued. This also can expand the time and resources needed to perform this part of the review.

This does not seem hugely unreasonable to me. This kind of audit could be expensive, time-consuming and — knowing ICANN’s history of “glitches” — could have easily exposed all kinds of embarrassing vulnerabilities to the public domain.

Ranjbar’s letter was followed up a day later with a missive (pdf) from the chair of ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee, which said the SSR-2’s work was doomed to fail.

Patrick Falstrom recommended a “temporarily halt” to the group’s work. He wrote:

One basic problem with the SSR2 work is that the review team seems neither to have sufficient external instruction about what to study nor to have been able to formulate a clear direction for itself. Whatever the case, the Review Team has spent hundreds of hours engaged in procedural matters and almost no progress has been made on substantive matters, which in turn has damaged the goodwill and forbearance of its members, some of whom are SSAC members. We are concerned that, left to its own devices, SSR2 is on a path to almost certain failure bringing a consequential loss of credibility in the accountability processes of ICANN and its community.

Now that ICANN has actually acted upon that recommendation, there’s concern that it sets a disturbing precedent for the board taking “unilateral” action to scupper supposedly independent accountability mechanisms.

The US government itself expressed concern, during a session between the board and the Governmental Advisory Committee in Abu Dhabi today.

“This is unprecedented,” US GAC rep Ashley Heineman said. “I just don’t believe it was ever an expectation that the ICANN board would unilaterally make a decision to pause or suspend this action. And that is a matter of concern for us.”

“It would be one thing if it was the community that specifically asked for a pause or if it was a review team that says ‘Hey, we’re having issues, we need a pause.’ What’s of concern here is that ICANN asked for this pause,” she said.

UK GACer Mark Carvell added that governments have been “receiving expressions of grave concern” about the move and urged “maximum transparency” as the SSR-2 gets back on track.

Jonathan Zuck of the Innovators Network Foundation, one of the volunteers who worked on ICANN’s transition from US government oversight, also expressed concern during the public forum session yesterday.

“I think having a fundamental accountability mechanism unilaterally put on hold is something that we should be concerned about in terms of process,” he said. “I’m not convinced that it was the only way to proceed and that from a precedential standpoint it’s not best way to proceed.”

Similar concerns were voiced by many other parts of the community as they met with the ICANN board throughout today and yesterday.

The problem now is that the bylaws do not account for a board-mandated “pause” in a review team’s work, so there’s no process to “unpause” it.

ICANN seems to have got itself tangled up in a procedural quagmire — again — but sessions later in the week have been scheduled in order for the community to begin to untangle the situation.

It doubt we’ll see a resolution this week. This is likely to run for a while.

Over 750 domains hijacked in attack on Gandi

Gandi saw 751 domains belonging to its customers hijacked and redirected to malware delivery sites, the French registrar reported earlier this month.

The attack saw the perpetrators obtain Gandi’s password for a gateway provider, which it did not name, that acts as an intermediary to 34 ccTLD registries including .ch, .se and .es.

The registrar suspects that the password was obtained by the attacker exploiting the fact that the gateway provider does not enforce HTTPS on its login pages.

During the incident, the name servers for up up to 751 domains were altered such that they directed visitors to sites designed to compromise unpatched computers.

The redirects started at 0804 UTC July 7, and while Gandi’s geeks had reversed the changes by 1615 it was several more hours before the changes propagated throughout the DNS for all affected domains.

About the theft of its password, Gandi wrote:

These credentials were likewise not obtained by a breach of our systems and we strongly suspect they were obtained from an insecure connection to our technical partner’s web portal (the web platform in question allows access via http).

It’s not clear why a phishing attack, which would seem the more obvious way to obtain a password, was ruled out.

Gandi posted a detailed timeline here, while Swiss registry Switch also posted an incident report from its perspective here. An effected customer, which just happened to be a security researcher, posted his account here.

Gandi says it manages over 2.1 million domains across 730 TLDs.

GoDaddy launches security service after Sucuri acquisition

GoDaddy has revealed the first fruits of its March acquisition of web security service provider Sucuri.

It’s GoDaddy Website Security, what appears to be a budget version of the services Sucuri already offers on a standalone basis.

For $6.99 per month ($83.88/year), the service monitors your web site for malware and removes it upon request. It also keeps tabs on major blacklists to make sure you’re not being blocked by Google, Norton or McAfee.

This low-end offering gets you a 12-hour response time for the cleanup component. You can up that to 30 minutes by taking out the $299.99 per year plan.

The more expensive plan also includes DDoS protection, a malware firewall and integration with a content delivery network for performance.

There’s also an intermediate, $19.99-per-month ($239.88/year) plan that includes the extra features but keeps the response time at 12 hours.

An SSL certificate is included in the two more-expensive packages.

The pricing and feature set looks to compare reasonably well with Sucuri’s standalone products, which start at $16.66 a month and offer response times as fast as four hours.

As somebody who has suffered from three major security problems on GoDaddy over the last decade or so, and found GoDaddy’s response abysmal on all three occasions (despite my generally positive views of its customer service), the new service is a somewhat tempting proposition.

CIRA and Nominum offering DNS firewall

Canadian ccTLD registry CIRA has started offering DNS-based security services to Canadian companies.

The company has partnered with DNS security services provider Nominum to develop D-Zone DNS Firewall, which it said lets customers “block access to malicious content before it can reach their network”.

It’s basically a recursive DNS service with a layer of filterware that blocks access to lists of domains, such as those used by command and control servers, known to be connected to malware and phishing.

It’s a timely offering, given the high-profile WannaCry ransomware which infected hundreds of thousands of unpatched Windows boxes worldwide last month (though I’m not sure this kind of service would have actually prevented its spread).

The CIRA service uses Nominum’s technology but operates at Canadian internet exchange points and appears to be marketed at Canadian customers.

It’s the latest effort by CIRA to expand outside of its core .ca registry business. Earlier this year, it became ICANN’s newest approved gTLD back-end provider after a deal with .kiwi.

Many ccTLD registries are looking outside of their traditional businesses as the increasingly cluttered TLD market puts a squeeze on registration growth.

Massive ransomware attack hits 150 countries, brought down by a domain reg

Kevin Murphy, May 15, 2017, Domain Tech

A massive outbreak of malware on Friday hit thousands of organizations in an estimated 150 countries and had a big impact on the UK National Health Service before being temporarily thwarted by a single domain name registration.

WannaCry, as the malware has been called, targets Windows boxes that have not installed a March security patch. It encrypts files on the hosts it infects and demands money for the decryption key.

The attack is Big News for several reasons.

First, it spread ransomware over the network using a remotely exploitable vulnerability that required no user error or social engineering to install itself.

Second, it hit an estimated quarter-million machines, including thousands at big organizations such as Telefonica, the NHS, Deutsche Bahn and FedEx.

Third, it posed a real risk to human life. A reported 70,000 NHS machines, including medical devices, were said to be infected. Reportedly, some non-critical patients had to be turned away from UK hospitals and operations were cancelled due to the inability of doctors to access medical records.

Fourth, WannaCry appears to have been based on code developed by the US National Security Agency and leaked last month.

All in all, it was an attack the scale of which we have not seen for many years.

But it seems to have been “accidentally” prevented from propagating further on Friday, at least temporarily, with the simple act of registering a domain name.

A young British security researcher who goes by the online handle MalwareTech said he was poring over the WannaCry code on Friday afternoon when he came across an unregistered domain name.

On the assumption that the malware author perhaps planned to use the domain as a command and control center, MalwareTech spent the ten bucks to register it.

MalwareTech discovered that after the domain was registered, the malware stopped encrypting the hard drives it infected.

He first thought it was a fail-safe or kill-switch, but he later came to the conclusion that the author had included the domain lookup as a way to thwart security researchers such as himself, who run malware code in protected sandbox environments.

MalwareTech wrote:

In certain sandbox environments traffic is intercepted by replying to all URL lookups with an IP address belonging to the sandbox rather than the real IP address the URL points to, a side effect of this is if an unregistered domain is queried it will respond as [if] it were registered

Once the domain was registered, WannaCry iterations on newly infected machines assume they were running in sandboxes and turned themselves off before causing additional damage.

MalwareTech was naturally enough proclaimed the hero of the day by many news outlets, but it appears that versions of the malware without the DNS query kill-switch already started circulating over the weekend.

Many are warning that the start of the work week today may see a new rash of infections.

The researcher’s account of the incident can be read in full here.