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ICANN Brussels – some of my coverage

Kevin Murphy, June 26, 2010, Domain Policy

As you may have noticed from my relatively light posting week, it really is a lot easier to cover ICANN meetings remotely.

The only drawback is, of course, that you don’t get to meet, greet, debate, argue and inevitably get into drunken fist-fights with any of the lovely people who show up to these things.

So, on balance, I think I prefer to be on-site rather than off.

I was not entirely lazy in Brussels this week, however. Here are links to a few pieces I filed with The Register.

Cyber cops want stronger domain rules

International police have called for stricter rules on domain name registration, to help them track down online crooks, warning the industry that if it does not self-regulate, governments could legislate.

.XXX to get ICANN nod

ICANN plans to give conditional approval to .xxx, the controversial top-level internet domain just for porn, 10 years after it was first proposed.

Governments mull net censorship grab

Governments working within ICANN are pondering asking for a right of veto on new internet top-level domains, a move that would almost certainly spell doom for politically or sexually controversial TLDs.

ICANN Brussels trending topics: security and control

Kevin Murphy, June 21, 2010, Domain Policy

Security and politicking over control of the domain name system’s critical functions emerged as key memes during the opening ceremony of ICANN’s 38th public meeting this morning, here in Brussels.

In a speech that addressed a few controversial topics, ICANN president Rod Beckstrom responded unapologetically to those who had criticised the fairly alarmist tone of his remarks about DNS security at ICANN 37, three months ago.

Directly addressing his Nairobi comments, Beckstrom said:

You may disagree with what I said, and openness to different viewpoints is what makes our community strong. Some have asked why I said what I did. Simple. I said it because I believe it is the truth. And more than twenty years of experience in risk management have taught me that in addressing highly complex systems, it is better to be more concerned about risk than less.

The ccTLD constituency – led by .uk and .au – had been concerned about Beckstrom’s warning in Nairobi, which was made at a meeting of the Governmental Advisory Committee, because they risked giving governments reason to interfere with their country’s ccTLD.

Beckstrom’s keynote addressed the risk of too much government control over the DNS, embodied currently in rumblings about another International Telecommunications Union power grab, with a call to action for all those who support ICANN’s model.

We must face the fact that governments control these institutions. Given the serious proposals for an alternative to our bottom-up, multi-stakeholder model, we must redouble our efforts to support it if we are to protect the global public interest. All our stakeholders must step up to the plate and defend our common interest.

We will of course work closely with the Governmental Advisory Committee. But we need the active involvement of all stakeholders. We need your help, through every means available to you, to counter the misinformation and ensure that governments understand what is at stake when these issues are debated in the UN General Assembly later this year.

Beckstrom’s sentiments on security were echoed by both European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and, in a recorded address, European Commissioner for competition Neelie Kroes.

Kroes, in particular, seemed keen to marry the ideas of security risks and control over the internet’s crucial policy-making functions.

I am hopeful that the expiry of the IANA contract next year will be turned into an opportunity for more international cooperation servicing the global public interests.

But don’t misunderstand me. The internet’s day to day functioning works well, and I’m the first to say that if it isn’t broken don’t fix it. We all have an interest that this wonderful platform for innovation, entrepreneurship and free expression works perfectly well at a technical level. It is a great adventure that must continue to flourish. Yet, does it mean all is well in the cyber world?

Take the issue of security and resilience. We need to fight against spam, identity theft, phishing and other evolving types of crime on the internet. Both the public and private sectors have a joint obligation to act. And that approach has to go hand in hand with ensuring the internet itself is not vulnerable to any large-scale failure, whether as a result of an accident of a deliberate attack.

As I type, Beckstrom is hosting a panel discussion with Whit Diffie, Paul Mockapetris, Steve Crocker and Dan Kaminsky on DNS vulnerabilities in front of a packed audience.

More WordPress attacks at Go Daddy

The Kneber gang has continued its attacks on Go Daddy this week, again targeting hosting customers running self-managed WordPress installations.

Go Daddy said that several hundred accounts were compromised in order to inject malicious code into the PHP scripts.

“The attack injects websites with a fake-antivirus pop-up ad, claiming the visitor’s computer is infected,” Go Daddy security manager Scott Gerlach blogged.

According to the alarmists-in-chief over at WPSecurityLock, the attacks place a link to a script hosted on cloudisthebestnow.com, a domain registered by “Hilary Kneber”.

The script attempts to install bot software on visitors’ machines.

As I’ve written before, the Kneber botnet has been running since at least December 2009. It generally hosts its malware on domains registered with ICANN-accredited BizCN.com, a Chinese registrar.

Go Daddy said it has contacted the registrar to get the domain yanked. It may have been successfully killed already, but I’m too much of a little girl to check manually.

I must confess, as somebody with a number of WordPress installations on Go Daddy servers, it makes me a little nervous that these attacks are now well into their second month and I still don’t know whether I should be worried or not.

ICANN staff need to get their pee tested

Kevin Murphy, June 8, 2010, Domain Tech

I imagine it’s a pretty hard job, largely thankless, working at ICANN. No matter what you do, there’s always somebody on the internet bitching at you for one reason or another.

The job may be about to get even more irksome for some staffers, if ICANN decides to implement new security recommendations made by risk management firm JAS Communications.

In a report published yesterday, JAS suggests that senior IANA staff – basically anyone with critical responsibilities over the DNS root zone – should be made to agree to personal credit checks, drug screening and even psych evaluations.

To anyone now trying to shake mental images of Rod Beckstrom peeing into a cup for the sake of the internet, I can only apologise.

This is what the report says:

JAS recommends a formal program to vet potential new hires, and to periodically re‐vet employees over time. Such a vetting program would include screening for illegal drugs, evaluation of consumer credit, and psychiatric evaluation, which are all established risk factors for unreliable and/or malicious insider activity and are routinely a part of employee screening in government and critical infrastructure providers.

I’ve gone for the cheap headline here, obviously, but there’s plenty in this report to take seriously, if you can penetrate the management consultant yadda yadda.

There are eight other recommendations not related to stoners running the root, covering contingencies such as IANA accidentally unplugging the internet and Los Angeles sinking into the Pacific.

Probably most interesting of all is the bit explaining how ICANN’s custom Root Zone Management System software, intended to reduce the possibility of errors creeping into the root after hundreds of new TLDs are added, apparently isn’t being built with security in mind.

“No formal requirements exist regarding the security and resiliency of these systems, making it impossible to know whether the system has been built to specification,” the report says.

It also notes that ICANN lacks a proper risk management strategy, and suggests that it improve communications both internally and with VeriSign.

It discloses that “nearly all critical resources are physically located in the greater Los Angeles area”, which puts the IANA function at risk of earthquake damage, if nothing else.

JAS recommends spreading the risk geographically, which should give those opposed to ICANN bloat something new to moan about.

There’s a public comment forum over here.

UPDATE (2010-06-13): As Michael Palage points out over at CircleID, ICANN has pulled the PDF from its web site for reasons unknown.

On the off-chance that there’s a good security reason for this, I shall resist the temptation to cause mischief by uploading it here. This post, however, remains unedited.

Go Daddy plays down “massive” attack claim

Kevin Murphy, April 26, 2010, Domain Registrars

Malicious hackers have compromised a number of WordPress installations running on Go Daddy hosting, but the company claims very few customers were affected.

Slashdot carried a story a few hours ago, linking to a blog claiming a “massive” breach of security at the domain name registrar.

(EDIT: as noted in the comments, this blog may itself have been hacked, so I’ve removed the link. You can find it in the comments if you want to take the risk.)

But Go Daddy says the problem is not as widespread as it sounds.

“We received reports from a handful of Go Daddy customers using WordPress their websites were impacted by the script in question,” Go Daddy security chief Todd Redfoot said in a statement.

“We immediately opened an investigation into what happened, how it was done and how many sites were affected,” he said. “The investigation is currently ongoing.”

The attack is certainly not ubiquitous. I host a number of WordPress sites with Go Daddy, including this one, and they all appear to be working fine today.

And a Twitter search reveals no references to an attack today prior to the Slashdot post, apart from the blog it was based on.

That doesn’t prove anything, but when Network Solutions’ WordPress hosting was breached last week there was a lot more tweet noise. That attack had thousands of victims.

For those interested in the details of the attack, this WordPress security blog appears to be the best place to get the nitty-gritty.