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It’s worse than you thought: TAS security bug leaked new gTLD applicant data

Kevin Murphy, April 13, 2012, Domain Registries

The bug that brought down ICANN’s TLD Application System yesterday was actually a security hole that leaked data about new gTLD applications.

The vulnerability enabled TAS users to view the file names and user names of other applicants, ICANN said this morning.

COO Akram Atallah said in a statement:

We have learned of a possible glitch in the TLD application system software that has allowed a limited number of users to view some other users’ file names and user names in certain scenarios.

Out of an abundance of caution, we took the system offline to protect applicant data. We are examining how this issue occurred and considering appropriate steps forward.

Given the level of secrecy surrounding the new gTLD application process, this vulnerability ranks pretty highly on the This Is Exactly What We Didn’t Want To Happen scale.

It’s not difficult to imagine scenarios in which a TAS user name or file name contains the gTLD string being applied for.

This is important, competition-sensitive data. If it’s been leaked, serious questions are raised about the integrity of the new gTLD program.

How long was this vulnerability present in TAS? Which applicants were able to look at which other applicants’ data? Did any applicants then act on this inside knowledge by filing competing bids?

If it transpires that any company filed a gTLD application specifically in order to shake down applicants whose data was revealed by this vulnerability, ICANN is in for a world of hurt.

TAS glitch “not an attack” says ICANN

Kevin Murphy, April 12, 2012, Domain Registries

ICANN’s decision this afternoon to shut down its TLD Application System until next Tuesday was not prompted by hackers, according to the organization.

“It’s not an attack,” a spokesperson told DI.

ICANN announced within the last hour that it has extended the window for new gTLD applications until next Friday as a result of unspecified “unusual behavior” in TAS.

Speculation as to the cause has already started on social media, with some pointing to the possibility of hacking, but according to ICANN we can rule out foul play.

The immediate reaction from stressed-out applicants has been split between those laughing, those crying, and those doing both.

TAS was down for scheduled maintenance for two hours last night. According to two applicants who logged in afterwards, it was running very slowly when it came back online.

UPDATE: ICANN has just confirmed: “No application data has been lost from those who have already submitted applications, so it should not pose problems for existing applicants.”

Breaking: ICANN extends new gTLD application window after technical glitch

Kevin Murphy, April 12, 2012, Domain Registries

ICANN has extended the deadline to file new generic top-level domain applications by more than a week after its TLD Application System experienced “unusual behavior”.

TAS will be down until next Tuesday while ICANN fixes the unspecified problem, ICANN said.

Here’s the meat of ICANN’s announcement:

Recently, we received a report of unusual behavior with the operation of the TAS system. We then identified a technical issue with the TAS system software.

ICANN is taking the most conservative approach possible to protect all applicants and allow adequate time to resolve the issue. Therefore, TAS will be shut down until Tuesday at 23:59 UTC – unless otherwise notified before that time.

In order to ensure all applicants have sufficient time to complete their applications during the disruption, the application window will remain open until 23:59 UTC on Friday, 20 April 2012.

What this means for the Big Reveal, currently scheduled for April 30, is not yet clear. More when we get it.

How to get a $180,000 new gTLD refund

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN will give new gTLD applicants a $180,000 refund on their application fee if they withdraw before May 2, it has emerged.

This refund is not mentioned in the Applicant Guidebook, in which the maximum refund available is $148,000. Nor could I find any reference to it on the ICANN new gTLDs microsite.

However, in response to an inquiry from DI last night, an ICANN customer service rep said:

Applications withdrawn prior to the posting of the applied-for strings are qualified for a $180000 refund (if such payment has been made and reconciled by ICANN). The USD5000 registration fee is non-refundable.

The posting of the applied-for strings occurs approximately 2 weeks after the end of the application window, which closes on 12 April 2012. Applications withdrawn after the posting of the applied-for strings will receive refunds according to the refund schedule in section 1.5 of the Applicant Guidebook.

At least one other person, new gTLD consultant Michael Palage of Pharos Global, was told substantially the same thing by the new gTLD service center earlier this week.

I believe ICANN is currently targeting May 2 for its Big Reveal, when we all find out who’s applying for what. May 1, I believe, has been ruled out because it’s a public holiday in some parts of the world.

I don’t think this apparently obscure refund opportunity significantly increases the risk of gaming, but I can see how it might alter some applicants’ strategies.

It’s possible, for example, that in some cases it might now make more sense for an applicant to announce its bid between April 12 and May 2.

After April 12, nobody will be able to file a competing, gaming application, but revealing a strong bid might be enough to scare already-competing applicants into dropping out for a 97% refund.

I don’t think it really helps reluctant dot-brand applicants, which have asked for the $180,000 refund to be available after they know what the competitive landscape for similar strings looks like.

ICANN adds 266 new gTLD applicants in a week

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2012, Domain Registries

Remember that last-minute rush I was telling you about?

ICANN has revealed that it now has 556 registered users in its Top-Level Domain Application System, up from 290 just a week ago.

Each TAS account can be used to apply for 49 new gTLDs (not 50 as previously reported), so we’re looking at anywhere from 0 to 27,244 new gTLD applications.

Based on what I’ve heard from consultants, I estimate that the true number of applications represented by these 556 accounts could be over 1,000.

Companies applying for dot-brand gTLDs are in many cases also applying for a couple of keyword gTLDs related to their vertical industry too, I hear.

Fairwinds Partners, which has been mostly working with skeptical brands, said this week that its clients on average are applying for 2.7s gTLD each.

Applied across all the TAS accounts registered to date, that would mean 1,501 applications.

The deadline for new TAS registrations is this Thursday, March 29, at 2359 UTC. That’s 1659 in ICANN’s native California and 1959 on America’s east coast.

Remember that while the UK switches from GMT (which is the same as UTC) to BST tomorrow morning, UTC does not observe daylight savings and remains the same.

Today is your first new gTLD deadline

Kevin Murphy, March 23, 2012, Domain Policy

If you’re planning to apply to ICANN for more than one new generic top-level domain and you do not already have a TLD Application System account, today might be your last day to get one.

Go here to get one.

It’s been widely publicized that April 12 is the last day to file a new gTLD application with ICANN.

It’s also been widely publicized that March 29 is the last day to register an account with TAS, which is a prerequisite to filing an application.

A less well-known date is today, March 23, five business days before TAS closes to new registrants.

According to ICANN, organizations applying for more than one gTLD with the same TAS account need to get registered in TAS at least a week before registration closes.

ICANN said this today, in reply to a DI inquiry:

29 March is the deadline for registration.

This means applicants will have until 29 March to request an application.

If the applicant is a new user and wishes to submit only one application, the applicant may initiate and complete the application request on the same day (29 March for example).

If an applicant wishes to submit multiple applications, it will need to initiate the registration process several days in advance of the application window.

The reason being that only registered TAS users may request multiple applications.

The process for becoming a registered TAS user not only includes completing the application request as mentioned, but also the legal review, USD 5000 registration fee payment, reconciliation of the registration fee payment, and receipt of TAS login credentials.

ICANN announced a few weeks ago that “ICANN recommends that organizations wishing to submit several TLD applications under a single TAS user account complete steps 1 and 2 several days (e.g. 5 to 7 business days) in advance of 29 March.”

It seems that if you need to submit multiple new gTLD applications and you haven’t already, you will still be able to do so before March 29, as long as you file them under separate newly created TAS accounts.

But please don’t take my word for it. ICANN’s communications on this particular issue have not been great.

Go check out the official site or contact ICANN if you’re worried.

New gTLD registrants now at 290

Kevin Murphy, March 18, 2012, Domain Registries

There are now 290 registered users of ICANN’s Top-Level Domain Application System, according to the organization.

As before, there’s not a one-to-one mapping of TAS accounts to gTLD applications, because each account can hold up to 50 applications.

It’s difficult to estimate how many individual gTLD applications these 290 slots represent, but I expect it could be easily double that number.

Many attendees at ICANN 43 in Costa Rica last week were expecting a last-minute rush of TAS registrations over the next 10 days before ICANN closes the doors to new registrants.

Big brands are expected to be among the last to sign up for their TAS accounts, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

In order to sign up for a TAS account, you have to answer the first handful of basic Applicant Guidebook questions by including the contact details of the applying entity and its officers.

For many organizations, getting this information has apparently caused difficulties internally – directors of large public companies for example don’t want to hand over their home addresses, even though ICANN has promised not to publish them.

Despite all the other controversies, vagaries and uncertainties in the Guidebook, simply confirming the name of the applicant is turning out to be a big problem for some applicants.

Some likely applicants are therefore likely to set up a shell LLC or two, along with a bunch of straw-men officers, before registering with TAS.

This, according to consultants and registries, is one of the major reasons ICANN might see a last-minute rush of applicants shortly before the March 29 registration deadline.

ICANN has no plans to extend new gTLD window

Kevin Murphy, March 12, 2012, Domain Registries

The March 29 and April 12 deadlines to register for and submit new gTLD applications are currently not open to negotiation, according to ICANN chair Steve Crocker.

“We don’t really have any indication of sufficient reasons to change the schedule,” Crocker said at a press conference here at ICANN’s public meeting in Costa Rica this afternoon.

“We have no proposals we are actively working on to cause it to be changed at the moment,” he said. “The message needs to be understood that the application window will close April 12.”

I asked about the possibility of an extension largely because almost every registry services provider and new gTLD consultant I’ve talked to recently is expecting a mad rush of new gTLD applicants.

There are only 17 days remaining for applicants to sign up for a TLD Application System account. After March 29, applicants then have two weeks to file and pay for their applications.

Despite these pressing deadlines, many potential applicants – including dot-brands and some geographic gTLDs – have yet to make their minds up about applying.

Other confirmed applicants still haven’t selected their partners – I heard today about a city gTLD with a tender offer closing March 20, just nine days before the sign-up deadline.

ICANN said today that it has 254 registered TAS users.

A last-minute stampede for application services seems likely. With a limited number of registry back-end providers and decent consultants on the market, we could see bottlenecks.

But it seems that the ICANN board — which is the only body that could extend the schedule — has no plans to do so presently.

New gTLD applicants up to 207

With the registration deadline less than four weeks away, ICANN has revealed that it has received 207 sign-ups for generic top-level domain applications.

That’s an increase of 63 over the last week and up 163 on February 13.

As with previous announcements of this kind, certain caveats apply.

ICANN is talking about registered users of its TLD Application System. Each TAS account can be used to file up to 50 applications.

In practice I expect very few accounts will be used to file that many.

New gTLD magic number upped to 144

Kevin Murphy, February 27, 2012, Domain Registries

The number of registered new gTLD applicants has increased to 144, according to ICANN.

That’s up from 100 two weeks ago and up from 25 on January 19.

It refers to the number of registered users in the TLD Application System, the web-based tool used for filing new gTLD applications.

Each TAS slot can be used to file up to 50 applications; 144 registered TAS users could mean anything from 144 to 7,200 gTLD applications.

I err towards the lower number. Some consultants have told me they open a new account for each application they plan to file, due to some technical limitations in the system.

Most people are expecting a last-minute rush of applications — primarily hold-out dot-brand applicants — shortly before the system closes to new registrants March 29.