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Microsoft seizes “Russian election hacking” domains

Kevin Murphy, August 21, 2018, Domain Policy

Microsoft has taken control of six domains associated with a hacker group believed to be a part of Russian military intelligence, according to the company.

Company president Brad Smith blogged yesterday that Microsoft obtained a court order allowing it to seize the names, which it believes were to be used to attack institutions including the US Senate.

The domains in question look like they could be used in spear-phishing attacks. The are: my-iri.org, hudsonorg-my-sharepoint.com, senate.group, adfs-senate.services, adfs-senate.email and office365-onedrive.com.

Historical Whois records archived by DomainTools show they were registered last year behind WhoisGuard, the Panama-based privacy service. Now, of course, the Whois records are all redacted due to GDPR.

Smith said that Microsoft believes intended targets besides the Senate also include the International Republican Institute and the Hudson Institute, two conservative think-tanks.

The company believes, though it did not show evidence, that the domains were created by the group it calls “Strontium”.

Strontium is also known as “Fancy Bear”, among other names. It’s believed to be backed by the GRU, Russia’s intelligence agency.

It’s the same group alleged members of which Special Counsel Robert Mueller recently indicted as part of his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

“We have now used this approach 12 times in two years to shut down 84 fake websites associated with this group,” Smith said in his blog post.

He added that Microsoft does not know whether the domains have been used in an attack yet.

Is the new Whois policy group already doomed to fail?

Kevin Murphy, July 24, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Generic Names Supporting Organization has set itself extremely aggressive, some might say impossible, targets for its emergency Whois policy work.

The GNSO Council on Thursday approved the charter for a new working group that will attempt to come up with a consensus policy for how to amend the Whois system in light of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

But the vote was not unanimous — three of the six Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group councilors abstained largely because they think intellectual property interests have managed to capture the discussion before it has begun.

The three abstentions were independent consultant Ayden Ferdeline, cybersecurity policy researcher Tatiana Tropina, and privacy consultant Stephanie Perrin.

Tropina said during the Thursday meeting: “I cannot vote ‘yes’ for a document that in my opinion has parts that are not properly worded and, instead of setting the scope of the EPDP [Expedited Policy Development Process] work, set up multiple possibilities to get the work sidetracked.”

She and Ferdeline pointed specifically to section J of the approved charter (pdf), which addresses “reasonable access” to non-public Whois data.

This is the part of the policy work that will decide whether, and to what extent, entities such as trademark owners and cybersecurity researchers will be able to peek behind the curtain of post-GDPR personal data redactions and see who actually owns domain names.

There are several “gating” questions that the working group must answer before it gets to J, however, such as: what data should be collected by registrars, how data transfer to registries should be handled, and are the reasons for this data to be collected all valid?

But when it comes to section J, the abstaining NCSG councilors reckon that the Intellectual Property Community has managed to sneak in the notion that its members should get access to private data as a fait accompli. Section J reads in part:

What framework(s) for disclosure could be used to address (i) issues involving abuse of domain name registrations, including but not limited to consumer protection, investigation of cybercrime, DNS abuse and intellectual property protection, (ii) addressing appropriate law enforcement needs, and (iii) provide access to registration data based on legitimate interests not outweighed by the fundamental rights of relevant data subjects?

Ferdeline said in his abstention:

I believe that Section J includes, first and foremost, questions that unnecessarily expand the scope of this EPDP and put perceived answers — rather than genuine, open ended questions — into this important document. Overall I think this section of the charter’s scope is unnecessary and will not allow the EPDP team to complete their work in a timely manner.

Tropina said J “poses the questions that, first of all, imply by default that issues related to intellectual property protection and consumer protection require the disclosure of personal data”, adding that she was bewildered that IP interests had been lumped in with security concerns:

This wording fails me: as I am criminal lawyer working in the field of frameworks for cybercrime investigation, I do not see why cybercrime investigations are separated from law enforcement needs and go to the same basket with intellectual property protection as they are on a completely different level of legitimate demands

In short, the newly approved EPDP charter has been framed in such a way as to make discussions extremely fractious from the outset, pitting privacy interests against those of the trademark lobby on some of the most divisive wedge issues.

This is problematic given that the working group has an extremely aggressive schedule — its members have not yet even been named and yet it expects to produce its Initial Report shortly after ICANN 63, which ends October 25 this year.

It’s an absurdly short space of time to resolve questions that have dogged ICANN for almost two decades.

Will this pressure to come to agreement against the clock work in favor of the trademark community, or will it doom the policy-making process to deadlock?

Attempting to steer the WG through this minefield will be Kurt Pritz, who was confirmed by the Council as its neutral chair on Thursday, as DI first reported a week ago.

The make-up of the group has also proved contentious.

While it is a GNSO process that would lead to a Consensus Policy binding on all gTLD registries and registrars, the decision has been made to bring in voices from other areas of the community, such as the Country Code Names Supporting Organization, which will not be directly affected by the resulting policy.

There will be 29 members in total, not counting the non-voting chair.

The GNSO gets 18 of these seats at the table, comprising: three registries, three registrars, two IPC members, two ISPs, two Business Constituency members, six NCSG members (which, I imagine would be split between the privacy-focused NCUC and more IP-friendly NPOC).

But also joining the group on an equal footing will be two members of the Root Server System Advisory Committee (I’ve no idea why), two from the Security and Stability Advisory Committee, two from the ccNSO, two from the At-Large Advisory Committee and three from the Governmental Advisory Committee.

The actual individuals filling these seats will be named by their respective constituencies in the next few days, ahead of the first WG meeting July 30.

It has been said that these people could expect to devote north of 30 hours a week (unpaid of course, though any necessary travel will be comp’d) to the discussions.

ICANN found a zero-day hole in Adobe Connect

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2018, Domain Tech

It’s looking like ICANN may have found a zero-day vulnerability in Adobe Connect, until recently its default collaboration tool.

The organization on Friday announced the results of a “forensic investigation” into the bug, and said it has reported its findings to Adobe, which is now “working on a software fix to address the root cause of the issue”.

If Adobe didn’t know about it, it looks rather like ICANN — or at least the unnamed member of the security advisory committee who found it — has bagged itself a zero-day.

ICANN had previously said that the glitch “could possibly lead to the disclosure of the information shared in an ICANN Adobe Connect room”.

The review found that the only person who exploited the bug was the person who discovered and disclosed it.

AC is used not only in ICANN’s public meetings but also, I understand, in closed sessions of ICANN staff, board and committees, where secret information is most likely to be shared.

After the bug was discovered, ICANN shut off the system and started using alternatives such as WebEx, to a mixed reception.

In the absence of an immediate patch from Adobe, ICANN has been testing workarounds and said it hopes to have two working ones deployed by May 3.

This would allow the tool to come back online in time for its board workshop, GDD Summit and ICANN 62, the organization said.

Data leak security glitch screws up ICANN 61 for thousands

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2018, Domain Policy

A security vulnerability forced ICANN to take down its Adobe Connect conferencing service halfway through its ICANN 61 meeting in Puerto Rico.

The “potentially serious security issue” could “could possibly lead to the disclosure of the information shared in an ICANN Adobe Connect room”, ICANN said in a pair of statements.

Taking down the service for the remainder of the meeting, which ends today, meant that potentially thousands of remote participants were left to cobble together a less streamlined replacement experience from a combination of live streams, transcription and email.

At the last ICANN meeting, over 4,000 unique participants logged into Adobe Connect. With only 1,900 or so people on-site, we’re probably looking at over 2,000 remote participants relying on AC to take part.

At this point, it’s not clear whether ICANN has discovered a previously undisclosed vulnerability in the Adobe service, or whether it simply buggered up its implementation with sloppy configuration settings.

It’s also not clear whether the glitch has been actively exploited to expose private data, though ICANN said it was first reported by a member of the Security and Stability Advisory Committee.

ICANN said in the second of two statements issued yesterday:

The issue is one that could possibly lead to the disclosure of the information shared in an ICANN Adobe Connect room. We are still investigating the root cause of the issue. We have formulated different scenarios based on authentication, encryption, and software versions, which we are testing in a controlled fashion in attempt to replicate and understand the root cause of the issue.

We are working directly with Adobe and with our cloud service provider to learn more.

Adobe Connect is a web conferencing tool that, at least when ICANN uses it for public meetings, combines live video and transcription, PowerPoint presentation sharing, and public and private chat rooms.

I also understand that there’s also a whiteboarding feature that allows participants to collaboratively work on documents in closed sessions.

Given that everything shared in the public sessions (outside of the private chat function) is by definition public, it might be reasonable to assume that ICANN’s primary concern here is how the software is used in closed sessions.

I hear ICANN uses Adobe Connect internally among its own staff and board, where one might imagine private data is sometimes shared. Other relatively secretive groups, such as the Governmental Advisory Committee and Nominating Committee, are also believed to sometimes use it behind closed doors.

While Adobe is infamous for producing buggy, insecure software, and ICANN uses a version of it hosted by a third-party cloud services provider, that doesn’t necessarily mean this wasn’t another ICANN screw-up.

In a similar incident uncovered in 2015, it was discovered that new gTLD applicants could read attachments on the confidential portions of their competitors’ applications, after ICANN accidentally had a single privacy configuration toggle set to “On” instead of “Off” in the hosted Salesforce.com software it was using to manage the program.

Ashwin Rangan, ICANN’s CIO and the guy also tasked with investigating the Salesforce issue, has now started a probe into the Adobe issue.

Lawyer: GoDaddy Whois changes a “critical” contract breach

Kevin Murphy, March 13, 2018, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy is in violation of its ICANN registrar contract by throttling access to its Whois database, according to a leading industry lawyer.

Brian Winterfeldt of the Winterfeldt IP Group has written to ICANN to demand its compliance team enforces what he calls a “very serious contractual breach”.

At issue is GoDaddy’s recent practice, introduced in January, of masking key fields of Whois when accessed in an automated fashion over port 43.

The company no longer shows the name, email address or phone number of its registrants over port 43. Web-based Whois, which has CAPTCHA protection, is unaffected.

It’s been presented as an anti-spam measure. In recent years, GoDaddy has been increasingly accused (wrongly) of selling customer details to spammers pitching web hosting and SEO services, whereas in fact those details have been obtained from public Whois.

But many in the industry are livid about the changes.

Back in January, DomainTools CEO Tim Chen told us that, even as a white-listed known quantity, its port 43 access was about 2% of its former levels.

And last week competing registrar Namecheap publicly complained that Whois throttling was hindering inbound transfers from GoDaddy.

Winterfeldt wrote (pdf) that “nothing in their contract permits GoDaddy to mask data elements, and evidence of illegality must be obtained before GoDaddy is permitted to throttle or deny
port 43 Whois access to any particular IP address”, adding:

The GoDaddy whitelist program has created a dire situation where businesses dependent upon unmasked and robust port 43 Whois access are forced to negotiate wholly subjective terms for access, and are fearful of filing complaints with ICANN because they are reticent to publicize any disruption in service, or because they fear retaliation from GoDaddy…

This is a very serious contractual breach, which threatens to undermine the stability and security of the Internet, as well as embolden other registrars to make similar unilateral changes to their own port 43 Whois services. It has persisted for far too long, having been officially implemented on January 25, 2018. The tools our communities use to do our jobs are broken. Cybersecurity teams are flying blind without port 43 Whois data. And illegal activity will proliferate online, all ostensibly in order to protect GoDaddy customers from spam emails. That is completely disproportionate and unacceptable

He did not disclose which client, if any, he was writing on behalf of, presumably due to fear of reprisals.

He added that his initial outreaches to ICANN Compliance have not proved fruitful.

ICANN said last November that it would not prosecute registrar breaches of the Whois provisions of the Registrar Accreditation Agreements, subject to certain limits, as the industry focuses on becoming compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation.

But GoDaddy has told us that the port 43 throttling is unrelated to GDPR and to the compliance waiver.

Masking Whois data, whether over port 43 or not, is likely to soon become a fact of life anyway. ICANN’s current proposal for GDPR compliance would see public Whois records gutted, with only accredited users (such as law enforcement) getting access to full records.