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New gTLDs are the new Y2K: .corp and .home are doomed and everything else is delayed

Kevin Murphy, August 6, 2013, Domain Registries

The proposed gTLDs .home and .corp create risks to the internet comparable to the Millennium Bug, which terrorized a burgeoning internet at the turn of the century, and should be rejected.

Meanwhile, every other gTLD that has been applied for in the current round could be delayed by months in order to mitigate the risks they pose to internet users.

These are the conclusions ICANN has drawn from Interisle Consulting’s independent study into the problems that could be caused when new gTLDs clash with widely-used internal naming systems.

The extensive study, which drew on 8TB of traffic data provided by 11 of the 13 DNS root server operators, is 197 pages long and absolutely fascinating. It was published by ICANN today.

As Interisle CEO Lyman Chapin reported at the ICANN meeting in Durban a few weeks ago, the large majority of TLDs that have been applied for in the current round already receive large amounts of error traffic:

Of the 1,409 distinct applied-for TLD strings, 1,367 appeared at least once in the 2013 DITL [Day In the Life of the Internet] data with the string at the TLD position.

We’ve previously reported on the volume of queries new gTLDs get, such as the fact that .home gets half a billion hits a day and that 3% of all requests were for strings that have been applied for in the current round.

The extra value in Interisle’s report comes when it starts to figure out how many end points are making these requests, and how many second-level domains they’re looking for.

These are vitally important factors for assessing the scale of the risk of each TLD.

Again, .home and .corp appear to be the most dangerous.

Interisle capped the number of second-level domains it counted in the 2013 data at 100,000 per TLD per root server — 1,100,000 domains in total — and .home was the only TLD string to hit this cap.

Cisco Systems’ proposed .cisco TLD came close, failing to hit the cap in only one of the 11 root servers providing data, while .box and .iinet (both also used widely on home routers) hit the cap on at least one root server.

The lowest count of second-level domains of the 35 listed in the report came from .hsbc, the bank brand, but even that number was a not-inconsiderable 2,000.

Why are these requests being made?

Surprisingly, interactions between a security feature in Google’s own Chrome browser and common residential routers appear to be the biggest cause of queries for non-existent TLDs.

That issue, which impacts mainly .home, accounts for about 46% of the requests counted, according to the report.

In second place, with 15% of the queries, are requests for real domain names that appear to have had a non-existent TLD — again, usually .home — appended by a residential router or cable modem.

Apparent typos — where a user enters a URL but forgets to type the TLD — were a relatively small percentage of requests, coming in at under 1% of queries.

The study also found that bad requests come from many thousands of sources. This table compares the number of requests to the number of sources.

2013 RankStringCount (thousands)Prefix Count (thousands)
1home952944302
2corp144507185
3ice1978948
4global12352308
5med1080180
6site1071650
7ads10563148
8network871157
9group858045
10cisco828478

The “Count” column is the number, in thousands, of requests for each TLD string. The “Prefix Count ” column refers to the number of sources providing this traffic, counted by the /24 IP address block (each of which is up to 256 potential hosts).

As you can see, there’s not necessarily a correlation between the number of requests a TLD gets and the number of people making the requests — .google gets queried by more sources than the others, but it’s only ranked 24 in terms of overall query volume, for example.

Interisle concluded from all this that .corp and .home are simply too dangerous to delegate, comparing the problem to the year 2000 bug, where a global effort was required to make sure software could support the four-digit dating scheme required by the turn of the century.

Here’s what the report says about .corp:

users could be taken to the wrong web site (and possibly be exposed to phishing attacks) or told that web sites do not exist when they do, depending on how the .corp TLD is resolved. A corporate mail system might attempt to deliver email to the wrong server, and this could expose sensitive or confidential information to someone who was not supposed to receive it. In essence, everything deployed in the private network would need to be checked.

There are no easy solutions to these problems. In an ideal world, the operators of these private networks would get a timely notification of the new TLD’s delegation and then take action to address these issues. That seems very improbable. Even if ICANN generated sufficient publicity about the new TLD’s delegation, there is no guarantee that this will come to the attention of the management or operators of the private networks that could be jeopardized by the delegation.

It seems reasonable to estimate that the amount of effort involved might be comparable to a wholesale renumbering of the internal network or the Y2K problem.

It notes that applied-for TLDs such as .site, .office, .group and .inc appear to be used in similar ways to .home and .corp, but do not appear to present as broad a risk.

To be clear, the risk we’re talking about here isn’t just people typing the wrong things into browsers, it’s about the infrastructure on many thousands of private networks starting to make the wrong security assumptions about domain names.

ICANN, in response, has outlined a series of measures sure to infuriate many gTLD applicants, but which are consistent with its goal to protect the security and stability of the internet.

They’re also consistent with some of the recommendations put forward by Verisign over the last few months in its campaign to show that new gTLDs pose huge risks.

First, .corp and .home are dead. These two strings have been categorized “high risk” by ICANN, which said:

Given the risk level presented by these strings, ICANN proposes not to delegate either one until such time that an applicant can demonstrate that its proposed string should be classified as low risk

Given the Y2K-scale effort required to mitigate the risks, and the fact that the eventual pay-off wouldn’t compensate for the work, I feel fairly confident in saying the two strings will never be delegated.

Another 80% of the applied-for strings have been categorized “low risk”. ICANN has published a spreadsheet explaining which string falls into which category. Low risk does not mean they get off scot-free, however.

First, all registries for low-risk strings will not be allowed to activate any domain names in their gTLD for 120 days after contract signing.

Second, for 30 days after a gTLD is delegated the new registries will have to reach out to the owners of each IP address that attempts to query names in that gTLD, to try to mitigate the risk of internal name collisions.

This, as applicants will no doubt quickly argue, is going to place them under a massive cost burden.

But their outlook is considerably brighter than that of the remaining 20% of applications, which are categorized as “uncalculated risk” and face a further three to six months of delay while ICANN conducts further studies into whether they’re each “high” or “low” risk strings.

In other words, the new gTLD program is about to see its biggest shake-up since the GAC delivered its Advice in Beijing, adding potentially millions in costs and delays for applicants.

ICANN’s proposed mitigation efforts are now open for public comment.

One has to wonder why the hell ICANN didn’t do this study two years ago.

NTIA alarmed as Verisign hints that it will not delegate new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, August 5, 2013, Domain Tech

Verisign has escalated its war against competition by telling its government masters that it is not ready to add new gTLDs to the DNS root, raising eyebrows at NTIA.

The company told the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration in late May that the lack of uniform monitoring across the 13 root servers means it would put internet security and stability at risk to start delegating new gTLDs now.

In response, the NTIA told Verisign that its recent position on DNS security is “troubling”. It demanded confirmation that Verisign is not planning to block new gTLDs from being delegated.

The letters (pdf and pdf) were published by ICANN over the weekend, over two months after the first was sent.

Verisign senior VP Pat Kane wrote in the May letter:

we strongly believe certain issues have not been addressed and must be addressed before any root zone managers, including Verisign, are ready to implement the new gTLD Program.

We want to be clearly on record as reporting out this critical information to NTIA unequivocally as we believe a complete assessment of the critical issues remain unaddressed which left unremediated could jeopardize the security and stability of the DNS.

we strongly recommend that the previous advice related to this topic be implemented and the capability for root server system monitoring, instrumentation, and management capabilities be developed and operationalized prior to beginning delegations.

Kane’s concerns were first outlined by Verisign in its March 2013 open letter to ICANN, which also expressed serious worries about issues such as internal name collisions.

Verisign is so far the only root server operator to publicly express concerns about the lacking of coordinated monitoring, and many people believe that the company is simply desperately trying to delay competition for its $800 million .com business for as long as possible.

These people note that in early November 2012, Verisign signed a joint letter with ICANN and NTIA that said:

the Root Zone Partners are able to process at least 100 new TLDs per week and will commit the necessary resources to meet all root zone management volume increases associated with the new gTLD program

That letter was signed before NTIA stripped Verisign of its right to increase .com prices every year, depriving it of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of additional revenue.

Some say that Verisign is raising spurious security concerns now purely because it’s worried about its bottom line.

NTIA is beginning to sound like one of these critics. In its response to the May 30 letter, sent by NTIA and published by ICANN on Saturday, deputy associate administrator Vernita Harris wrote:

NTIA and VeriSign have historically had a strong working relationship, but inconsistencies in VeriSign’s position in recent months are troubling… NTIA fully expects VeriSign to process change requests when it receives an authorization to delegate a new gTLD. So that there will be no doubt on this point, please provide me a written confirmation no later than August 16, 2013 that VeriSign will process change requests for the new gTLD program when authorized to delegate a new gTLD.

Harris said that a system is already in place that would allow the emergency rollback of the root zone, basically ‘un-delegating’ any gTLD that proves to cause a security or stability problem.

This would be “sufficient for the delegation of new gTLDs”, she wrote.

Could Verisign block new gTLDs?

It’s worth a reminder at this point that ICANN’s power over the DNS root is something of a facade.

Verisign, as operator of the master A root server, holds the technical keys to the kingdom. Under its NTIA contract, it only processes changes to the root — such as adding a TLD — when NTIA tells it to.

NTIA in practice merely passes on the recommendations of IANA, the department within ICANN that has the power to ask for changes to the root zone, also under contract with NTIA.

Verisign or NTIA in theory could refuse to delegate new gTLDs — recall that when .xxx was heading to the root the European Union asked NTIA to delay the delegation.

In practice, it seems unlikely that either party would stand in the way of new gTLDs at the root, but the Verisign rhetoric in recent months suggests that it is in no mood to play nicely.

To refuse to delegate gTLDs out of commercial best interests would be seen as irresponsible, however, and would likely put its role as custodian of the root at risk.

That said, if Verisign turns out to be the lone voice of sanity when it comes to DNS security, it is ICANN and NTIA that will ultimately look like they’re the irresponsible parties.

What’s next?

Verisign now has until August 16 to confirm that it will not make trouble. I expect it to do so under protest.

According to the NTIA, ICANN’s Root Server Stability Advisory Committee is currently working on two documents — RSSAC001 and RSSAC002 — that will outline “the parameters of the basis of an early warning system” that will address Verisign’s concerns about root server management.

These documents are likely to be published within weeks, according to the NTIA letter.

Meanwhile, we’re also waiting for the publication of Interisle Consulting’s independent report into the internal name collision issue, which is expected to recommend that gTLDs such as .corp and .home are put on hold. I’m expecting this to be published any day now.

“Risky” gTLDs could be sacrificed to avoid delay

Kevin Murphy, July 20, 2013, Domain Tech

Google and other members of the New gTLD Applicant Group are happy to let ICANN put their applications on hold in response to security concerns raised by Verisign.

During the ICANN 46 Public Forum in Durban on Thursday, NTAG’s Alex Stamos — CTO of .secure applicant Artemis — said that agreement had been reached that about half a dozen applications could be delayed:

NTAG has consensus that we are willing to allow these small numbers of TLDs that have a significant real risk to be delayed until technical implementations can be put in place. There’s going to be no objection from the NTAG on that.

While he didn’t name the strings, he was referring to gTLDs such as .home and .corp, which were highlighted earlier in the week as having large amounts of error traffic at the DNS root.

There’s a worry, originally expressed by Verisign in April and independent consultant Interisle this week, that collisions between new gTLDs and widely-used internal network names will lead to data leakage and other security problems.

Google’s Jordyn Buchanan also took the mic at the Public Forum to say that Google will gladly put its uncontested application for .ads — which Interisle says gets over 5 million root queries a day — on hold until any security problems are mitigated.

Two members of the board described Stamos’ proposal as “reasonable”.

Both Stamos and ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade indirectly criticised Verisign for the PR campaign it has recently built around its new gTLD security concerns, which has led to somewhat one-sided articles in the tech press and mainstream media such as the Washington Post.

Stamos said:

What we do object to is the use of the risk posed by a small, tiny, tiny fraction — my personal guess would be six, seven, eight possible name spaces that have any real impact — to then tar the entire project with a big brush. For contracted parties to go out to the Washington Post and plant stories about the 911 system not working because new TLDs are turned on is completely irresponsible and is clearly not about fixing the internet but is about undermining the internet and undermining new gTLDs.

Later, in response to comments on the same topic from the Association of National Advertisers, which suggested that emergency services could fail if new gTLDs go live, Chehade said:

Creating an unnecessary alarm is equally irresponsible… as publicly responsible members of one community, let’s measure how much alarm we raise. And in the trademark case, with all due respect it ended up, frankly, not looking good for anyone at the end.

That’s a reference to the ANA’s original campaign against new gTLDs, which wound up producing not much more than a lot of column inches about an utterly pointless Congressional hearing in late 2011.

Chehade and the ANA representative this time agreed publicly to work together on better terms.

.home gets half a billion hits a day. Could this put new gTLDs at risk?

Kevin Murphy, July 17, 2013, Domain Tech

New gTLDs could be in jeopardy following the results of a study into the security risks they may pose.

ICANN is likely to be told to put in place measures to mitigate the risk of new gTLDs causing problems, and chief security officer Jeff Moss said “deadlines will have to move” if global DNS resolution is put at risk.

His comments referred to the potential for clashes between applied-for new gTLD strings and non-existent TLDs that are nevertheless already widely used on internal networks.

That’s a problem that has been increasingly highlighted by Verisign in recent months. The difference here is that the study’s author does not have a .com monopoly to protect.

Interisle Consulting, which has been hired by ICANN to look into the problem, today released some of its preliminary findings during a session at the ICANN 47 meeting in Durban, South Africa.

The company looked at domain name look-up data collected from one of the DNS root servers over a 48-hour period, in an attempt to measure the potential scope of the clash problem.

Some of its findings are surprising:

  • Of the 1,408 strings originally applied for in the current new gTLD round, only 14 do not currently have any root traffic.
  • Three percent of all requests were for strings that have been applied for in the current round.
  • A further 19% of requests were for strings that could potentially be applied for in future rounds (that is, the TLD was syntactically well-formed and not a banned string such as .local).
  • .home, the most frequently requested invalid TLD, received over a billion queries over the 48-hour period. That’s compared to 8.5 billion for .com

Here’s a list of the top 17 invalid TLDs by traffic, taken from Interisle’s presentation (pdf) today.

Most Queried TLDs

If the list had been of the top 100 requested TLDs, 13 of them would have been strings that have been applied for in the current round, Interisle CEO Lyman Chapin said in the session.

Here’s the most-queried applied-for strings:

Most Queried TLDs

Chapin was quick to point out that big numbers do not necessarily equate to big security problems.

“Just occurrence doesn’t tell you a lot about whether that’s a good thing, a bad thing, a neutral thing, it just tells you how often the string appears,” he said.

“An event that occurs very frequently but has no negative side effects is one thing, an event that occurs very infrequently but has a really serious side effect, like a meteor strike — it’s always a product of those two factors that leads you to an assessment of risk,” he said.

For example, the reason .ice appears prominently on the list appears to be solely due to an electricity producer in Costa Rica, which “for some reason is blasting .ice requests out to the root”, Chapin said.

If the bad requests are only coming from a small number of sources, that’s a relatively simple problem to sort out — you just call up the guy responsible and tell him to sort out his network.

In cases like .home, where much of the traffic is believed to be coming from millions of residential DSL routers, that’s a much trickier problem.

The reverse is also true, however: a small number of requests doesn’t necessarily mean a low-impact risk.

There may be a relatively small number of requests for .hospital, for example, but if the impact is even a single life support machine blinking off… probably best not delegate that gTLD.

Chapin said that the full report, which ICANN said could be published in about two weeks, does contain data on the number of sources of requests for each invalid TLD. Today’s presentation did not, however.

As well as the source of the request, the second-level domains being requested is also an important factor, but it does not seem to have been addressed by this study.

For example, .home may be getting half a billion requests a day, but if all of those requests are for bthomehub.home — used today by the British ISP BT in its residential routers — the .home registry might be able to eliminate the risk of data leakage by simply giving BT that domain.

Likewise, while .hsbc appears on the list it’s actually been applied for by HSBC as a single-registrant gTLD, so the risk of delegating it to the DNS root may be minimal.

There was no data on second-level domains in today’s presentation and it does not appear that the full Interisle report contains it either. More study may be needed.

Donuts CEO Paul Stahura also took to the mic to asked Chapin whether he’d compared the invalid TLD requests to requests for invalid second-level domains in, say, .com. He had not.

One of Stahura’s arguments, which were expounded at length in the comment thread on this DI blog post, is that delegating TLDs with existing traffic is little different to allowing people to register .com domains with existing traffic.

So what are Interisle’s recommendations likely to be?

Judging by today’s presentation, the company is going to present a list of risk-mitigation options that are pretty similar to what Verisign has previously recommended.

For example, some strings could be permanently banned, or there could be a “trial run” — what Verisign called an “ephemeral delegation” — for each new gTLD to test for impact before full delegation.

It seems to me that if the second-level request data was available, more mitigation options would be opened up.

ICANN chief security officer Jeff Moss, who was on today’s panel, was asked what he would recommend to ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade today in light of the report’s conclusions.

“I am not going to recommend we do anything that has any substantial SSR impact,” said Moss. “If we find any show-stoppers, if we find anything that suggests impact for global DNS, we won’t do it. It’s not worth the risk.”

Without prompting, he addressed the risk of delay to the new gTLD program.

“People sometimes get hung up on the deadline, ‘How will you know before the deadline?’,” he said. “Well, deadlines can move. If there’s something we find that is a show-stopper, deadlines will have to move.”

The full report, expected to be published in two weeks, will be opened for public comment, ICANN confirmed.

Assuming the report is published on time and has a 30-day comment period, that brings us up to the beginning of September, coincidentally the same time ICANN expects the first new gTLD to be delegated.

ICANN certainly likes to play things close to the whistle.

Report names and shames most-abused TLDs

Kevin Murphy, July 11, 2013, Domain Services

Newish gTLDs .tel and .xxx are among the most secure top-level domains, while .cn and .pw are the most risky.

That’s according to new gTLD services provider Architelos, which today published a report analyzing the prevalence of abuse in each TLD.

Assigning an “abuse per million domains” score to each TLD, the company found .tel the safest with 0 and .cn the riskiest, with a score of 30,406.

Recently relaunched .pw, which has had serious problems with spammers, came in just behind .cn, with a score of 30,151.

Generally, the results seem to confirm that the more tightly controlled the registration process and the more expensive the domain, the less likely it is to see abuse.

Norway’s .no and ICM Registry’s .xxx scored 17 and 27, for example.

Surprisingly, the free ccTLD for Tokelau, .tk, which is now the second-largest TLD in the world, had only 224 abusive domains per million under management, according to the report..

Today’s report ranked TLDs with over 100,000 names under management. Over 90% of the abusive domains used to calculate the scores were related to spam, rather than anything more nefarious.

The data was compiled from Architelos’ NameSentry service, which aggregates abusive URLs from numerous third-party sources and tallies up the number of times each TLD appears.

The methodology is very similar to the one DI PRO uses in TLD Health Check, but Architelos uses more data sources. NameSentry is also designed to automate the remediation workflow for registries.