dotBerlin CEO Dirk Krischenowski is suspected of using a bug in ICANN’s new gTLD portal to access hundreds of confidential documents, some containing sensitive financial planning data, belonging to competing gTLD applicants.
That’s according to ICANN documents sent by a source to DI today.
Krischenowski, who has through his lawyer “denied acting improperly or unlawfully”, seems to be the only person ICANN thinks abused its portal’s misconfigured search feature to deliberately access rivals’ secret data.
ICANN said last night that “over 60 searches, resulting in the unauthorized access of more than 200 records, were conducted using a limited set of user credentials”.
But ICANN, in private letters to victims, has been pinning all 60 searches and all 200 access incidents on Krischenowski’s user credentials.
Some of the incidents of unauthorized access were against applicants Krischenowski-run companies were competing against in new gTLD contention sets.
The search terms used to find the private documents included the name of the rival applicant on more than one occasion.
In more than once instance, the data accessed using his credentials was a confidential portion of a rival application explaining the applicant’s “worst case scenario” financial planning, the ICANN letters show.
I’ve reached out to Krischenowski for comment, but ICANN said in its letters to victims:
[Krischenowski] has responded through legal counsel and has denied acting improperly or unlawfully. The user has stated that he is unable to confirm whether he performed the searches or whether the user’s account was used by unauthorized person(s). The user stated that he did not record any information pertaining to other users and that he has not used and will not use the information for any purpose.
Krischenowski is a long-time proponent of the new gTLD program who founded dotBerlin in 2005, many years before it was possible to apply.
Since .berlin launched last year it has added 151,000 domains to its zone file, making it the seventh-largest new gTLD.
The bug in the ICANN portal was discovered in February.
The results on an audit completed last month showed that over the last two years, 19 users used the glitch to access data belonging to 96 applicants and 21 registry operators.
There were 330 incidents of unauthorized access in total, but ICANN seems to have dismissed the non-“Krischenowski” ones as inadvertent.
An ICANN spokesperson declined to confirm or deny Krischenowski is the prime suspect.
Its investigation continues…
A small number of new gTLD registries and/or applicants deliberately exploited ICANN’s new gTLD portal to obtain information on competitors.
That’s my take on ICANN’s latest update about the exploitation of an error in its portal that laid confidential financial and technical data bare for two years.
ICANN said last night:
Based on the information that ICANN has collected to date our investigation leads us to believe that over 60 searches, resulting in the unauthorized access of more than 200 records, were conducted using a limited set of user credentials.
The remaining user credentials, representing the majority of users who viewed data, were either used to:
Access information pertaining to another user through mere inadvertence and the users do not appear to have acted intentionally to obtain such information. Access information pertaining to another user through mere inadvertence and the users do not appear to have acted intentionally to obtain such information. These users have all confirmed that they either did not use or were not aware of having access to the information. Also, they have all confirmed that they will not use any such information for any purpose or convey it to any third party; or
Access information of an organization with which they were affiliated. At the time of the access, they may not have been designated by that organization as an authorized user to access the information.
We can infer from this that the 60 searches, exposing 200 records, were carried out deliberately.
I asked ICANN to put a number on “limited set of user credentials” but it declined.
The breach resulted from a misconfiguration in the portal that allowed new gTLD applicants to view attachments to applications that were not their own.
ICANN knows who exploited the bug — inadvertently or otherwise — and it has told the companies whose data was exposed, but it’s not yet public.
The information may come out in future, as ICANN says the investigation is not yet over.
Was your data exposed? Do you know who accessed it? You know what to do.
Almost three quarters of the security breaches logged against ICANN’s new gTLD portal occurred over a three-month period in early 2014, DI can reveal.
Almost every incident of a new gTLD applicant coming across data they weren’t supposed to see — 322 of the 330 total — happened before the end of October last year, ICANN told DI.
Most — 244 of the 330 — happened before April 30 last year.
The first breach, discovered by an independent audit of the portal, was January 22 2014.
ICANN says it was first notified of there being a problem on February 27, 2015.
The improper data disclosures were announced by ICANN last week.
As we reported, a simple configuration error by ICANN in third-party software allowed users of the Global Domains Division portal — all new gTLD applicants — to view confidential data belonging to other applicants.
Documents revealed could have included sensitive financial projections and registry technical details.
My first assumption was that the majority of the incidents — which have been deliberate or accidental — were relatively recent, but that turns out not to be the case.
In fact, if anyone did download data they weren’t supposed to see, most of them did it over a year ago.
ICANN has been notifying applicants and registries about whether their own data was compromised and expects to have told each affected applicant which other applicants could have seen their data before May 27.
Ninety-six applicants and 21 registries were affected.
Secret financial projections were among 330 pieces of confidential data revealed by an ICANN security bug.
Over the last two years, a total of 19 new gTLD applicants used the bug to access data belonging to 96 applicants and 21 registry operators.
That’s according to ICANN, which released the results of a third-party audit this afternoon.
Ashwin Rangan, ICANN’s new chief information and innovation officer, confirmed to DI this afternoon that the data revealed to unauthorized users included private financial and technical documents that gTLD applicants attached to their applications.
It would have included, for example, documents that dot-brand applicants reluctantly submitted to demonstrate their financial health.
But Rangan said it was not clear whether the glitch had been exploited deliberately or accidentally.
While saying the situation was “very deeply regrettable”, he added that applicant data deemed confidential when it was submitted back in 2012 may not be considered as such today.
The vulnerability was in ICANN’s Global Domains Division Portal, which was taken offline for three days at the end of February and early March after the bug was reported by a user.
Two outside consulting firms were brought in to scan access logs going back to the launch of the new gTLD portal back in April 2013.
What they found was that any user of the portal could access any attachment to any application, whether it belonged to them or a third-party applicant, simply by checking a radio button in the advanced search feature.
It was a misconfiguration by ICANN of the Salesforce.com software used by GDD, rather than a coding error, Rangan said.
“The public/private data sharing setting can be On or Off and here it was set to On,” he said.
On 330 occasions, starting “in earliest part of when the portal first became available” two years ago, these 19 users would have been exposed to data they were not supposed to be able to see.
The audit has been unable to determine whether the users actually downloaded confidential data on those occasions.
What’s confirmed is that only new gTLD applicants were able to use the glitch. No third-party hackers were involved.
The 19 users who, whether they meant to or not, exploited this vulnerability are now going to be sent letters asking them to explain themselves. They’ll also be asked to delete anything they downloaded and to not share it with third parties.
Before May 27, ICANN will also contact those applicants whose secret data was exposed, telling them which rival applicants could have seen it.
Rangan said that there have been almost 600,000 GDD sessions in the last two years, and that only 36 of them revealed data to unauthorized users.
“It’s a small fraction,” he said. “The question is whether they just stumbled across something they were not even aware of… Looking at the log files it is not clear what is the case.”
ICANN seems to be giving the 19 users the benefit of the doubt so far, but still wants them to explain their actions.
As CIO, Rangan was not able to comment on whether the breach exposes ICANN or applicants to any kind of legal liability.
It’s not the first time sensitive applicant data has been exposed. Back in 2012, DI discovered that the home addresses of the directors of applicants had been published, despite promises that they would remain private.
At the time of the original GDD portal misconfiguration, ICANN had noted security expert Jeff “The Dark Tangent” Moss as its chief security officer.
Earlier this week, ICANN’s board of directors authorized expenses of over $500,000 to carry out security audits of ICANN’s code.
Afilias’ .kim has become the latest victim (beneficiary?) of adware, as robo-registrations boost the gTLD’s zone file and apparent popularity.
It’s the latest new gTLD, after .xyz and .country, to see its rankings soar after hundreds of gibberish, bulk-registered domains started being used to serve ads by potentially unwanted software.
.kim is today the 4th most-popular new gTLD, with 85 domains in the top 100,000 on the internet and 264 in the top one million.
A month ago, it had a rank of 223, with just 16 domains in the top one million.
The domain names involved — gems such as oatmealsmoke.kim, vegetableladybug.kim and tubhaircut.kim — have seen a boat-load of traffic and rocketing Alexa rank.
The reason for the boost seems to be a one-off bulk registration of about 1,000 meaningless .kim domain names in early February, which now appear to be being used to serve ads via adware.
In this chart (click to enlarge), we see .kim’s zone file growth since the start of 2015.
The spike on February 5, which represents over 1,000 names, is the date almost all of the .kim names with Alexa rank were first registered.
They all appear to be using Uniregistry as the registrar and its free privacy service to mask their Whois details.
These domains often do not resolve if you type them into your browser. They’re also using robots.txt to hide themselves from search engines.
But they’ve been leaving traces of their activity elsewhere on the web, strongly suggesting their involvement in adware campaigns.
It seems that the current (ab?)use of .kim domains is merely the latest in a series of possibly linked campaigns.
I noted in January that gibberish .country domains — at the time priced at just $1 at Uniregistry — were suddenly taking over from .xyz in the popularity charts.
The following three charts, captured from DI PRO’s TLD Health Check, show how the three TLDs’ Alexa popularity rose and fell during what I suspect were related adware campaigns..
First, .xyz, which was the first new gTLD to show evidence of having robo-registrations used in adware campaigns, saw its popularity spike at the end of 2014 and start of 2015:
Next, Minds + Machines’ .country, which saw its zone file spike by 1,500 names around January 6, starts to see its Alexa-ranked total rocket almost immediately.
.country peaks around February 9, just a few days after the .kim robo-registrations were made.
Finally, as .country’s use declines, .kim takes over. Its popularity has been growing day by day since around February 13.
I think what we’re looking at here is one shadowy outfit cycling through bulk-registered, throwaway domain names to serve ads via unwanted adware programs.
It seems possible that domains are retired when they become sufficiently blocked by security countermeasures, and other domains in other TLDs are then brought online to take over.
None of this necessarily reflects badly on any of the new gTLDs in question, or even new gTLDs as a whole, of course.
For starters, I’ve reason to believe that TLDs such as .eu and .biz have previously been targeted by the same people.
The “attacks”, for want of a better word, are only really noticeable because the new gTLDs being targeted are young and still quite small.
It takes much longer to build up genuine popularity for a newly launched web site than it does to merely redirect exist captive traffic to a newly registered domain.
What it may mean, however, is that .kim and .country are going to be in for statistically significant junk drops about a year from now, when the first-year registrations expire.
For .kim, 1,000 names is about 14% of its current zone file. For .country, it’s more like a quarter.