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As .trust opens for sunrise, Artemis dumps .secure bid

Kevin Murphy, December 16, 2014, Domain Registries

Amazon is now the proud owner of the .secure new gTLD, after much smaller competing applicant Artemis Internet withdrew its bid.

Coincidentally, the settlement of the contention set came just yesterday, the day before Artemis took its .trust — which I’ve described as a “backup plan” — to sunrise.

I assume .secure was settled with a private deal. I’ve long suspected Artemis — affiliated with data escrow provider NCC Group — had its work cut out to win an auction against Amazon.

It’s a shame, in a way. Artemis was one of the few new gTLD applicants that had actually sketched out plans for something quite technologically innovative.

Artemis’ .secure was to be a “trust mark” for a high-priced managed security service. It wasn’t really about selling domain names in volume at all.

The company had done a fair bit of outreach work, too. As long ago as July 2013, around 30 companies had expressed their interest in signing up as anchor tenants.

But, after ICANN gave Amazon a get-out-of-jail-free card by allowing it to amend its “closed generic” gTLD applications, it looked increasingly unlikely Artemis would wind up owning the gTLD it was essentially already pre-selling.

In February this year, it emerged that it had acquired the rights to .trust from Deutsche Post, which had applied for the gTLD unopposed.

This Plan B was realized today when .trust began its contractually mandated sunrise period.

Don’t expect many brands to apply for their names during sunrise, however — .trust’s standard registration policies are going to make cybersquatting non-existent.

Not only will .trust registrants have their identities manually vetted, but there’s also a hefty set of security standards — 123 pages (pdf) of them at the current count — that registrants will have to abide by on an ongoing basis in order to keep their names.

As for Amazon, its .secure application, as amended, is just as vague as all of its other former bids for closed, single-registrant generic strings (to the point where I often wonder if they’re basically still just closed generics).

It’s planning to deploy a small number of names to start with, managed by its own intellectually property department. After that, its application all gets a bit hand-wavey.

Russian hackers breaking in to NameCheap accounts

Kevin Murphy, September 2, 2014, Domain Registrars

If you have an account at NameCheap, now might be a good time to think about changing your password.

According to the registrar, hackers based in Russia are using a haul of a reported 4.5 billion username/password combinations to attempt to break into its customers’ accounts.

Some attempts have been successful, NameCheap warned.

The attackers are using credentials stolen from third-party sources in a large-scale, automated attempt to log in to user accounts, disguised as regular users, the company said in a blog post.

NameCheap said:

The vast majority of these login attempts have been unsuccessful as the data is incorrect or old and passwords have been changed. As a precaution, we are aggressively blocking the IP addresses that appear to be logging in with the stolen password data. We are also logging these IP addresses and will be exporting blocking rules across our network to completely eliminate access to any Namecheap system or service, as well as making this data available to law enforcement.

While the vast majority of these logins are unsuccessful, some have been successful. To combat this, we’ve temporarily secured the Namecheap accounts that have been affected and are currently contacting customers involved requesting they improve the security for these accounts.

Affected users have been emailed, the company said.

NameCheap suspects the attack is linked to a reported cache of 1.2 billion unique username/password combinations amassed by a hacker group from databases vulnerable to SQL injection.

The registrar pointed out that its own systems haven’t been hacked. Customers should only be vulnerable if they use the same username and password at NameCheap as they use on other sites.

RADAR to be down at least two weeks after hack

ICANN expects its RADAR registrar database to be offline for “at least two weeks” following the discovery of a security vulnerability that exposed users’ login names and encrypted passwords.

ICANN seems to have been quick to act and to disclose the hack.

The attack happened last weekend and ICANN was informed about it by an “internet user” on Tuesday May 27, according to an ICANN spokesperson. RADAR was taken offline and the problem disclosed late May 28.

The spokesperson added that “we do not believe the user is affiliated with a current or previously accredited registrar.”

ICANN isn’t disclosing the nature of the vulnerability, but said RADAR will be offline for some time for a security audit. The spokesperson told DI in an email:

It will be at least two weeks. It is more important to complete a thorough security assessment of the site than to rush this process. First of all, we’re keeping the system offline until we complete a thorough audit of the system. We are also currently engaged in a security review of all systems and procedures at ICANN to assess and implement ongoing improvements as appropriate.

RADAR is a database used by registrars to coordinate stuff like emergency contacts and IP address whitelisting for bulk Whois access.

The downtime is not expected to impact registrants, according to ICANN. The spokesperson said: “Nothing that occurred has raised any concerns that registrants could or would be adversely affected.”

ICANN registrar database hacked

ICANN’s database of registrar contact information has been hacked and user data has been stolen.

The organization announced this morning that the database, known as RADAR, has been taken offline while ICANN conducts a “thorough review” of its security.

ICANN said:

This action was taken as a precautionary measure after it was learned that an unauthorized party viewed data in the system. ICANN has found no evidence of any unauthorized changes to the data in the system. Although the vulnerability has been corrected, RADAR will remain offline until a thorough review of the system is completed.

Users of the system — all registrars — have had their usernames, email addresses and encrypted passwords compromised, ICANN added.

ICANN noted that it’s possible to brute-force a hashed password into plaintext, so it’s enforcing a password reset on all users, but it has no evidence of any user accounts being accessed.

RADAR users may want to think about whether they have the same username/password combinations at other sites.

RADAR is a database used by registrars in critical functions such as domain name transfers.

Registrars can use it, for example, to white-list the IP addresses of rival registrars, enabling them to execute large amounts of Whois queries that would usually be throttled.

The news follows hot on the heels of a screwup in the Centralized Zone Data Service, which enabled any new gTLD registry to view data belonging to rival registries and other CZDS users.

Controlled interruption as a means to prevent name collisions [Guest Post]

Jeff Schmidt, January 8, 2014, Domain Tech

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.

One of JAS’ commitments during this process was to “float” ideas and solicit feedback. This set of thoughts poses an alternative to the “trial delegation” proposals in SAC062. The idea springs from past DNS-related experiences and has an effect we have named “controlled interruption.”

Learning from the Expired Registration Recovery Policy

Many are familiar with the infamous Microsoft Hotmail domain expiration in 1999. In short, a Microsoft registration for passport.com (Microsoft’s then-unified identity service) expired Christmas Eve 1999, denying millions of users access to the Hotmail email service (and several other Microsoft services) for roughly 20 hours.

Fortunately, a well-intended technology consultant recognized the problem and renewed the registration on Microsoft’s behalf, yielding a nice “thank you” from Microsoft and Network Solutions. Had a bad actor realized the situation, the outcome could have been far different.

The Microsoft Hotmail case and others like it lead to the current Expired Registration Recovery Policy.

More recently, Regions Bank made news when its domains expired, and countless others go unreported. In the case of Regions Bank, the Expired Registration Recovery Policy seemed to work exactly as intended – the interruption inspired immediate action and the problem was solved, resulting in only a bit of embarrassment.

Importantly, there was no opportunity for malicious activity.

For the most part, the Expired Registration Recovery Policy is effective at preventing unintended expirations. Why? We call it the application of “controlled interruption.”

The Expired Registration Recovery Policy calls for extensive notification before the expiration, then a period when “the existing DNS resolution path specified by the Registrant at Expiration (“RAE”) must be interrupted” – as a last-ditch effort to inspire the registrant to take action.

Nothing inspires urgent action more effectively than service interruption.

But critically, in the case of the Expired Registration Recovery Policy, the interruption is immediately corrected if the registrant takes the required action — renewing the registration.

It’s nothing more than another notification attempt – just a more aggressive round after all of the passive notifications failed. In the case of a registration in active use, the interruption will be recognized immediately, inspiring urgent action. Problem solved.

What does this have to do with collisions?

A Trial Delegation Implementing Controlled Interruption

There has been a lot of talk about various “trial delegations” as a technical mechanism to gather additional data regarding collisions and/or attempt to notify offending parties and provide self-help information. SAC062 touched on the technical models for trial delegations and the related issues.

Ideally, the approach should achieve these objectives:

  • Notifies systems administrators of possible improper use of the global DNS;
  • Protects these systems from malicious actors during a “cure period”;
  • Doesn’t direct potentially sensitive traffic to Registries, Registrars, or other third parties;
  • Inspires urgent remediation action; and
  • Is easy to implement and deterministic for all parties.

Like unintended expirations, collisions are largely a notification problem. The offending system administrator must be notified and take action to preserve the security and stability of their system.

One approach to consider as an alternative trial delegation concept would be an application of controlled interruption to help solve this notification problem. The approach draws on the effectiveness of the Expired Registration Recovery Policy with the implementation looking like a modified “Application and Service Testing and Notification (Type II)” trial delegation as proposed in SAC62.

But instead of responding with pointers to application layer listeners, the authoritative nameserver would respond with an address inside 127/8 — the range reserved for localhost. This approach could be applied to A queries directly and MX queries via an intermediary A record (the vast majority of collision behavior observed in DITL data stems from A and MX queries).

Responding with an address inside 127/8 will likely break any application depending on a NXDOMAIN or some other response, but importantly also prevents traffic from leaving the requestor’s network and blocks a malicious actor’s ability to intercede.

In the same way as the Expired Registration Recovery Policy calls for “the existing DNS resolution path specified by the RAE [to] be interrupted”, responding with localhost will hopefully inspire immediate action by the offending party while not exposing them to new malicious activity.

If legacy/unintended use of a DNS name is present, one could think of controlled interruption as a “buffer” prior to use by a legitimate new registrant. This is similar to the CA Revocation Period as proposed in the New gTLD Collision Occurrence Management Plan which “buffers” the legacy use of certificates in internal namespaces from new use in the global DNS. Like the CA Revocation Period approach, a set period of controlled interruption is deterministic for all parties.

Moreover, instead of using the typical 127.0.0.1 address for localhost, we could use a “flag” IP like 127.0.53.53.

Why? While troubleshooting the problem, the administrator will likely at some point notice the strange IP address and search the Internet for assistance. Making it known that new TLDs may behave in this fashion and publicizing the “flag” IP (along with self-help materials) may help administrators isolate the problem more quickly than just using the common 127.0.0.1.

We could also suggest that systems administrators proactively search their logs for this flag IP as a possible indicator of problems.

Why the repeated 53? Preserving the 127.0/16 seems prudent to make sure the IP is treated as localhost by a wide range of systems; the repeated 53 will hopefully draw attention to the IP and provide another hint that the issue is DNS related.

Two controlled interruption periods could even be used — one phase returning 127.0.53.53 for some period of time, and a second slightly more aggressive phase returning 127.0.0.1. Such an approach may cover more failure modes of a wide variety of requestors while still providing helpful hints for troubleshooting.

A period of controlled interruption could be implemented before individual registrations are activated, or for an entire TLD zone using a wildcard. In the case of the latter, this could occur simultaneously with the CA Revocation Period as described in the New gTLD Collision Occurrence Management Plan.

The ability to “schedule” the controlled interruption would further mitigate possible effects.

One concern in dealing with collisions is the reality that a potentially harmful collision may not be identified until months or years after a TLD goes live — when a particular second level string is registered.

A key advantage to applying controlled interruption to all second level strings in a given TLD in advance and at once via wildcard is that most failure modes will be identified during a scheduled time and before a registration takes place.

This has many positive features, including easier troubleshooting and the ability to execute a far less intrusive rollback if a problem does occur. From a practical perspective, avoiding a complex string-by-string approach is also valuable.

If there were to be a catastrophic impact, a rollback could be implemented relatively quickly, easily, and with low risk while the impacted parties worked on a long-term solution. A new registrant and associated new dependencies would likely not be adding complexity at this point.

Request for Feedback

As stated above, one of JAS’ commitments during this process was to “float” ideas and solicit feedback early in the process. Please consider these questions:

  • What unintended consequences may surface if localhost IPs are served in this fashion?
  • Will serving localhost IPs cause the kind of visibility required to inspire action?
  • What are the pros and cons of a “TLD-at-once” wildcard approach running simultaneously with the CA Revocation Period?
  • Is there a better IP (or set of IPs) to use?
  • Should the controlled interruption plan described here be included as part of the mitigation plan? Why or why not?
  • To what extent would this methodology effectively address the perceived problem?
  • Other feedback?

We anxiously await your feedback — in comments to this blog, on the DNS-OARC Collisions list, or directly. Thank you and Happy New Year!