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ICANN: we won’t force registrars to suspend domains

Kevin Murphy, October 2, 2015, Domain Registrars

In one of the ongoing battles between registrars and the intellectual property lobby, ICANN’s compliance department seems to have sided with the registrars, for now.

Registrars will not be forced to suspend domain names when people complain about abusive or illegal behavior on the associated web sites, according to chief contract compliance office Allen Grogan.

The decision will please registrars but will come as a blow to the likes of music and movie studios and those who fight to shut down dodgy internet pharmacies.

Grogan yesterday published his interpretation of the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement, specifically the section (3.18) that obliges registrars to “investigate and respond appropriately” abuse reports.

The IP crowd take this to mean that if they submit an abuse report claiming, for example, that a web site sells medicines across borders without an appropriate license, the registrar should check out the site then turn off the domain.

Registrars, on the other hand, claim they’re in no position to make a judgment call about the legality of a site unless presented with a proper court order.

Grogan appears to have taken this view also, though he indicated that his work is not yet done. He wrote:

Sometimes a complaining party takes the position that that there is only one appropriate response to a report of abuse or illegal activity, namely to suspend or terminate the domain name registration. In the same circumstances, a registrar may take the position that it is not qualified to make a determination regarding whether the activity in question is illegal and that the registrar is unwilling to suspend or terminate the domain name registration absent an order from a court of competent jurisdiction. I am continuing to work toward finding ways to bridge these gaps.

It’s a testament to how little agreement there is on this issue that, when we asked Grogan back in June how long it would take to provide clarity, he estimated it would take “a few weeks”. Yet it’s still not fully resolved.

His blog post last night contains a seven-point checklist that abuse reporters must conform to in order to give registrars enough detail to with with.

They must, for example, be specific about who they are, where the allegedly abusive content can be found, whose rights are being infringed, and which laws are being broken in which jurisdiction.

It also contains a six-point checklist for how registrars must respond.

Registrars are only obliged to investigate the URL in question (unless they fear exposure to malware or child abuse material), inform the registrant about the complaint, and inform the reporter what, if anything, they’ve done to remediate the situation.

There’s no obligation to suspend domains, and registrars seem to have great leeway in how they treat the report.

In short, Grogan has interpreted RAA 3.18 in a way that does not seem to place any substantial additional burden on registrars.

He’s convening a roundtable discussion for the forthcoming ICANN meeting in Dublin with a view to getting registrars to agree to some non-binding “voluntary self-regulatory” best practices.

Architelos: shadiest new gTLD is only 10% shady

Kevin Murphy, September 4, 2015, Domain Registries

Disputing the recent Blue Coat report into “shady” new gTLDs, domain security firm Architelos says that the shadiest namespace is just under 10% shady.

That’s a far cry from Blue Coat’s claim earlier this week that nine new gTLDs are 95% to 100% abusive.

Architelos shared with DI a few data points from its NameSentry service today.

NameSentry uses a metric the company calls NQI, for Namespace Quality Index, to rank TLDs by their abuse levels. NQI is basically a normalized count of abusive domains per million registered names.

According to Architelos CEO Alexa Raad, the new gTLD with the highest NQI at the end of June was .work.

Today’s NameSentry data shows that .work has a tad under 6,900 abusive domains — almost all domains found in spam, garnished with just one suspected malware site — which works out to just under 10% of the total number of domains in its zone file.

That number is pretty high — one in 10 is not a figure you want haunting your registry — but it’s a far cry from the 98.2% that Blue Coat published earlier this week.

Looking at the numbers for .science, which has over 324,000 names in its zone and 15,671 dodgy domains in NameSentry, you get a shadiness factor of 4.8%. Again, that’s a light year away from the 99.35% number published by Blue Coat.

Raad also shared data showing that hundreds of .work and .science domains are delisted from abuse feeds every day, suggesting that the registries are engaged in long games of whack-a-mole with spammers.

Blue Coat based its numbers on a sampling of 75 million attempted domain visits by its customers — whether or not they were valid domains.

Architelos, on the other hand, takes raw data feeds from numerous sources (such as SpamHaus and SURBL) and validates that the domains do actually appear in the TLD’s zone. There’s no requirement for the domain to have been visited by a customer.

In my view, that makes the NameSentry numbers a more realistic measurement of how dirty some of these new gTLDs are.

Blue Coat explains .zip screw-up

Kevin Murphy, September 4, 2015, Domain Tech

Security vendor Blue Coat apparently doesn’t check whether domains are actually domains before it advises customers to block them.

The company yesterday published a blog post that sought to explain why it denounced Google’s unlaunched .zip gTLD as “100% shady” even though the only .zip domain in existence leads to google.com.

Unrepentant, Blue Coat continued to insist that businesses should consider blocking .zip domains, while acknowledging there aren’t any.

It said that its censorware treats anything entered into a browser’s address bar as a URL, so it has been treating file names that end in .zip — the common format for compressed archive files — as if they are .zip domain names. The blog states:

when one of those URLs shows up out on the public Internet, as a real Web request, we in turn treat it as a URL. Funny-looking URLs that don’t resolve tend to get treated as Suspicious — after all, we don’t see any counter-balancing legitimate traffic there.

Further, if a legal domain name gets enough shady-looking traffic — with no counter-evidence of legitimate Web traffic — it’s possible for one of our AI systems to conclude that the behavior isn’t changing, and that it deserves a Suspicious rating in the database. So it gets one.

In other words, Blue Coat has been categorizing Zip file names that somehow find their way into a browser address bar as .zip domain names.

That may sound like a software bug that Blue Coat needs to fix, but it’s still telling people to block Google’s gTLD anyway, writing:

In conclusion, none of the .zip “domains” we see in our traffic logs are requests to registered sites. Nevertheless, we recommend that people block these requests, until valid .zip domains start showing up.

That’s a slight change of position from its original “Businesses should consider blocking traffic that leads to the riskiest TLDs”, but it still strikes me as irresponsible.

The company has still not disclosed the real numbers behind any of the percentages in its report, so we still have no idea whether it was fair to label, for example, Famous Four’s .review as “100% shady”.

Laughable security report labels Google Registry “shady”

Kevin Murphy, September 1, 2015, Domain Registries

A report by security company Blue Coat Systems today denounced new gTLDs as “shady” and recommended organizations think about blocking the “shadiest” ones entirely.

The study classified “tens of millions” of domains requested by users of its censorware service according to whether they had content that posed a security risk.

It found that nine new gTLDs and one ccTLD scored over 95% — that is, 95% of the domains in those TLDs requested by its customers were potentially unsafe.

But its numbers, I believe, are bollocks.

My main reason for this belief? Blue Coat has ranked .zip as “100% shady”.

This means that, according to the company, every single .zip domain its customers have visited is either spam, malware, a scam, a botnet, suspicious, phishing or potentially unwanted software.

The problem is that the entire .zip zone file currently consists of precisely one (1) domain.

That domain is nic.zip, and it belongs to Google Registry. This is a pre-launch TLD.

As far as I can tell, Google Registry is not involved in distributing malware, spam, phishing, etc.

Nevertheless, Blue Coat said network administrators should “consider blocking traffic” to .zip and other “shady” TLDs.

The top 10 list of the worst TLDs includes .country, .kim, .cricket, .science, .work, .party, .gq (Equatorial Guinea) and .link.

That’s a mixture of Afilias, Minds + Machines, Famous Four and Uniregistry. The common factor is the low cost of registration.

The full Blue Coat report, which can be downloaded here, does not give any of the real underlying numbers for its assertions.

For example, it ranks .review, one of Famous Four Media’s portfolio, as “100% shady” but does not reveal how many domains that relates to.

If its customers have only visited 10 .review domains, and all of those were dodgy, that would equate to a 100% score, even though .review has over 45,000 domains in its zone.

At the other end of the table, .london’s score of 1.85% could have been positively affected by Blue Coat customers visiting a broader selection of .london domains.

The company claims that the report is based on “tens of millions” of domains, but I’d hazard a guess that most of those are in .com and other more established TLDs.

That’s not to say that there’s no truth in Blue Coat’s broader assertion that a lot of new gTLDs are full of garbage — do a Google search for .review sites and see if you can find anything worth looking at — but I don’t think its numbers are worth the pixels they’re written with.

Afilias wins $10m judgment in Architelos “trade secrets” case

Kevin Murphy, August 25, 2015, Domain Services

Afilias has won a $10 million verdict against domain security startup Architelos, over claims its flagship NameSentry abuse monitoring service was created using stolen trade secrets.

A jury in Virginia today handed Afilias $5 million for “misappropriation of trade secrets”, $2.5 million for “conversion” and another $2.5 million for “civil conspiracy”.

The jury found (pdf) in favor of Architelos on claims of business conspiracy and tortious interference with contractual relations, however.

Ten million dollars is a hell of a lot of cash for Architelos, which reportedly said in court that it has only made $300,000 from NameSentry.

If that’s true, I seriously doubt the four-year-old, three-person company has even made $10 million in revenue to date, never mind having enough cash in the bank to cover the judgment.

“We’re disappointed in the jury’s verdict and we plan to address it in some post-trial motions,” CEO Alexa Raad told DI.

The lawsuit was filed in January, but it has not been widely reported on and I only found out about its existence today.

The original complaint (pdf) alleged that three Architelos employees/contractors, including CTO Michael Young, were previously employees or contractors of Afilias and worked on the company’s own abuse tools.

It claimed that these employees took trade secrets with them when they joined Architelos, and used them to build NameSentry, which enables TLD registries to monitor and remediate abuse in their zones.

Architelos denied the claims, saying in its March answer (pdf) that Afilias was simply trying to disrupt its business by casting doubt over the ownership of its IP.

That doubt has certainly been cast, though the jury verdict says nothing about transferring Architelos’ patents to Afilias.

The $5 million portion of the verdict deals with Afilias’ claim that Architelos misappropriated trade secrets — ie that Young and others took work they did for Afilias and used it to build a product that could compete with something Afilias had been building.

The other two counts that went against Architelos basically cover the same actions by Architelos employees.

The company may be able to get the amount of the judgment lowered in post-trial, or even get the jury verdict overturned, so it’s not necessarily curtains yet. But Architelos certainly has a mountain to climb.