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ICANN security advisor predicts “hundreds” of new gTLDs will “go dark”

Kevin Murphy, December 4, 2015, Domain Registries

A security company led by a member of ICANN’s top security committee reckons that “hundreds” of new gTLDs are set to fail, leading to web sites “going dark”.

Internet Identity, which provides threat data services, made the prediction in a press release this week.

IID’s CTO, quoted in the release, is Rod Rasmussen. He’s a leading member of the Anti-Phishing Working Group, as well as a member of ICANN’s influential Security and Stability Advisory Committee.

He has a dim view of new gTLDs:

Most new gTLDs have failed to take off and many have already been riddled with so many fraudulent and junk registrations that they are being blocked wholesale. This will eventually cause ripple effects on the entire domain registration ecosystem, including consolidation and mass consumer confusion as unprofitable TLDs are dropped by their sponsoring registries.

The press release acknowledges that ICANN has an Emergency Back-End Registry Operator (EBERO) program, which will keep failing gTLDs alive for up to three years after the original registry operator goes out of business.

But it continues:

questions abound as to who would risk an investment in poorly performing TLDs, especially as they start to number in the hundreds. “That’s why eventually some are going to just plain go dark,” added Rasmussen.

The prediction is for “2017 and beyond”. Given the existence of the EBERO, we’re probably looking at 2020 before IID’s claim can be tested.

It’s a bit of a strange prediction to come out of a security company.

The whole point of EBERO is to make sure domain names do not go dark, giving either the registry the chance to sell on the gTLD or the registrants a three-year heads-up that they need to migrate to a different TLD.

It would be a bit like being told that there’s a horrible bit of malware that is set to brick your computer, but that you’ll be fine if you change your anti-virus provider in the next three years.

I could live with that kind of security threat, personally.

But what are the chances of hundreds of live, non-dot-brand going fully post-EBERO dead in the next few years?

I’d say evidence to date shows the risk may be over-stated. It may happen to a small number of TLDs, but to “hundreds”?

We’ve already seen new gTLD registries essentially fail, and they’ve been taken over by others even when they’re by definition not profitable.

Notably, .hiv — which has a contractual agreement with ICANN to not turn a profit — failed and was nevertheless acquired by Uniregistry.

We also see registries including Afilias and Donuts actively searching for failing gTLDs to acquire.

It’s official: new gTLDs didn’t kill anyone

Kevin Murphy, December 2, 2015, Domain Tech

The introduction of new gTLDs posed no risk to human life.

That’s the conclusion of JAS Advisors, the consulting company that has been working with ICANN on the issue of DNS name collisions.

It is final report “Mitigating the Risk of DNS Namespace Collisions”, published last night, JAS described the response to the “controlled interruption” mechanism it designed as “annoyed but understanding and generally positive”.

New text added since the July first draft says: “ICANN has received fewer than 30 reports of disruptive collisions since the first delegation in October of 2013. None of these reports have reached the threshold of presenting a danger to human life.”

That’s a reference to Verisign’s June 2013 claim that name collisions could disrupt “life-supporting” systems such as those used by emergency response services.

Names collisions, you will recall, are scenarios in which a newly delegated TLD matches a string that it is already used widely on internal networks.

Such scenarios could (and have) led to problems such as system failure and DNS queries leaking on to the internet.

The applied-for gTLDs .corp and .home have been effectively banned, due to the vast numbers of organizations already using them.

All other gTLDs were obliged, following JAS recommendations, to redirect all non-existent domains to 127.0.53.53, an IP address chosen to put network administrators in mind of port 53, which is used by the DNS protocol.

As we reported a little over a year ago, many administrators responded swearily to some of the first collisions.

JAS says in its final report:

Over the past year, JAS has monitored technical support/discussion fora in search of posts related to controlled interruption and DNS namespace collisions. As expected, controlled interruption caused some instances of limited operational issues as collision circumstances were encountered with new gTLD delegations. While some system administrators expressed frustration at the difficulties, overall it appears that controlled interruption in many cases is having the hoped-for outcome. Additionally, in private communication with a number of firms impacted by controlled interruption, JAS would characterize the overall response as “annoyed but understanding and generally positive” – some even expressed appreciation as issues unknown to them were brought to their attention.

There are a number of other substantial additions to the report, largely focusing on types of use cases JAS believes are responsible for most name collision traffic.

Oftentimes, such as the random 10-character domains Google’s Chrome browser uses for configuration purposes, the collision has no ill effect. In other cases, the local system administrators were forced to remedy their software to avoid the collision.

The report also reveals that the domain name corp.com, which is owned by long-time ICANN volunteer Mikey O’Connor, receives a “staggering” 30 DNS queries every second.

That works out to almost a billion (946,728,000) queries per year, coming when a misconfigured system or inexperienced user attempts to visit a .corp domain name.

ICANN reveals 12 more data breaches

Kevin Murphy, November 20, 2015, Domain Registries

Twelve more new gTLD applicants have been found to have exploited a glitch in ICANN’s new gTLD portal to view fellow applicants’ data.

ICANN said last night that it has determined that all 12 access incidents were “inadvertent” and did not disclose personally identifiable information.

The revelation follows an investigation that started in April this year.

ICANN said in a statement:

in addition to the previous disclosures, 12 user credentials were used to access contact information from eight registry operators. Based on the information collected during the investigation it appears that contact information for registry operators was accessed inadvertently. ICANN also concluded that the exposed registry contact information does not appear to contain sensitive personally identifiable information. Each of the affected parties has been notified of the data exposure.

The glitch in question was a misconfiguration of a portal used by gTLD applicants to file and view their documents.

It was possible to use the portal’s search function to view attachments belonging to other applicants, including competing applicants for the same string.

Donuts said in June that the prices it was willing to pay at auction for gTLD string could have been inferred from the compromised data.

ICANN told compromised users in May that the only incidents of non-accidental data access could be traced to the account of Dirk Krischenowski, CEO of dotBerlin.

Krischenowski has denied any wrongdoing.

ICANN said last night that its investigation is now over.

XYZ says it won’t block censored Chinese domains

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2015, Domain Registries

New gTLD registry XYZ.com has said it will not preemptively censor domain names based on the wishes of the Chinese government.

Over the last couple of days, CEO Daniel Negari has sought to “clarify” its plans to block and suspend domain names based on Chinese government requests.

It follows XYZ’s Registry Services Evaluation Request for a gateway service in the country, first reported by DI and subsequently picked up by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a Wall Street Journal columnist, Fortune magazine and others.

The clarifications offered up by XYZ probably did more to confuse matters.

A blog post on Wednesday said that XYZ will not reserve any .xyz domain names from being registered, except those ICANN makes all new gTLD registries reserve.

Subsequent comments from Negari stated that XYZ will, as the RSEP stated, prevent names that have been banned in China from being registered.

However, there’s one significant difference.

Now, the registry is saying that it will only put those bans in place for domain names that have been specifically banned by the Chinese government when the name had already been registered by a Chinese registrant.

So, if I understand correctly, it would not preemptively ban anyone anywhere from registering [banned term].xyz.

However, if [banned term].xyz was registered to a Chinese resident and the Chinese government told the registry to suspend it, it would be suspended and nobody would be able to re-register it anywhere in the world.

Negari said in a blog comment yesterday:

if we receive a Chinese legal order tomorrow (before the gateway has launched) which requires disabling a domain name registered in China and properly under Chinese jurisdiction, then it will be disabled at the registry level, and not by the gateway. When the gateway launches the name will continue to be unavailable, and the gateway will not implement the action on a localized basis only in China. The normal registry system would continue to be the only system used to resolve the name globally. Again — the specific stability concern ICANN had was that we would use the Chinese gateway to make .xyz names resolve differently, depending on what country you are in. I completely agree that our [RSEP] re-draft to address that concern came out in a way that can be read in a way that we sincerely did not intend.

So there is a list of preemptively banned .xyz, .college, .rent, .security and .protection domains, compiled by XYZ from individual Chinese government requests targeting names registered to Chinese registrants.

Negari said in an email to DI yesterday:

To clarify the statement “XYZ will reserve domains,” we meant that XYZ will takedown domains in order to comply with “applicable law.” Unfortunately, the inaccuracies in your post caused people to believe that we were allowing the Chinese government to control what names could be registered or how they could be used by people outside of China. The idea that XYZ is going to impose Chinese law and prevent people outside of China from registering certain domain names is simply incorrect and not true. To be 100% clear, there is no “banned list.”

That was the first time anyone connected with XYZ had complained about the October 12 post, other than since-deleted tweets that corrected the size of the list from 40,000 domains to 12,000.

The RSEP (pdf) that causes all this kerfuffle has not been amended. It still says:

XYZ will reserve names prohibited for registration by the Chinese government at the registry level internationally, so the Gateway itself will not need to be used to block the registration of of any names. Therefore, a registrant in China will be able to register the same domain names as anyone else in the world.

This fairly unambiguous statement is what XYZ says was “misinterpreted” by DI (and everyone else who read it).

However, it’s not just a couple of sentences taken out of context. The context also suggests preemptive banning of domains.

The very next sentence states:

When the Gateway is initially implemented we will not run into a problem whereby a Chinese registrant has already registered a name prohibited for registration by the Chinese government because Chinese registrars are already enforcing a prohibition on the registration of names that are in violation of Chinese law.

This states that Chinese residents are already being preemptively banned, by Chinese registrars, from registering domains deemed illegal in China.

The next few paragraphs of the RSEP deal with post-registration scenarios of domains being banned, clearly delineated from the paragraph dealing with pre-registration scenarios.

In his blog post, Negari said the RSEP “addressed the proactive abuse mitigation we will take to shut down phishing, pharming, malware, and other abuse in China”.

I can’t believe this is true. The consequence would be that if China sent XYZ a take-down notice about a malware or phishing site registered to a non-Chinese registrant, XYZ would simply ignore it.

Regardless, the takeaway today is that XYZ is now saying that it will not ban a domain before it has been registered, unless that domain has previously been registered by a Chinese resident and subsequently specifically banned by the Chinese government.

The registry says this is no different to how it would treat take-down notices issued by, for example, a US court. It’s part of its contractual obligation to abide by “applicable law”, it says.

Whether this is a policy U-turn or a case of an erroneous RSEP being submitted… frankly I don’t want to get into that debate.

Disclosure: during the course of researching this story, I registered .xyz domains matching (as far as this monoglot can tell) the Chinese words for “democracy”, “human rights”, “porn” and possibly “Tiananmen Square”. I have no idea if they have value and have no plans to develop them into web sites.

Credit card hack cost Web.com millions

Kevin Murphy, October 30, 2015, Domain Registrars

Web.com is taking a $1 million per-quarter hit to its revenue as a result of August’s hacking attack.

It also incurred $400,000 in consulting, legal and credit monitoring fees in the third quarter as a result of the breach, CEO David Brown told analysts last night.

Some 93,000 credit card numbers were stolen during the attack, a small portion of its 3.3 million customers.

A number of customers jumped ship as a result of the attack, moving their domains elsewhere, which increased Web.com’s churn rate.

“Due to the subscription nature of our business, in the fourth and subsequent quarters we expect the breach will have about a $1 million negative impact on revenue per quarter due to the shortfall from Q3,” Brown said.

It added 15,000 customers in the quarter, lower than the 21,000 it added in Q2.

Net income for the quarter was $6.1 million, reversing a $3.4 million loss in the year-ago period, on revenue that was basically flat at $136.8 million, compared to $137.4 million a year ago.

In response to an analyst question, Brown also commented on the success, or lack thereof, of the company’s new gTLD business. He said:

That continues to be positive, but we’re not doing back-flips here. It’s not that positive. We think it’s good for the market, good for consumers and businesses to have more choices. But they’re not flying off the table. .com and .net and the original extensions still are the force in the marketplace. But as we see more gTLDs and as the market understands them and see the opportunity, we continue to believe that this will be a positive trend. But at this point, it’s not moving the needle in our business or likely in anyone’s business.

Web.com owns registrars including Network Solutions and Register.com.