Verisign stock punished after US move from root control

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2014, Domain Registries

Verisign’s share price is down around 8% in early trading today, after analysts speculated that the US government’s planned move away from control of the DNS root put .com at risk.

The analyst firm Cowan & Co cut its rating on VRSN and reportedly told investors:

With less US control and without knowledge of what entity or entities will ultimately have power, we believe there is increased risk that VRSN may not be able to renew its .com and .net contracts in their current form.

It’s complete nonsense, of course.

The US announced on Friday it’s intention to step away from the trilateral agreements that govern control of the root between itself, ICANN and Verisign. But that deal has no dollar value to anyone.

What’s not affected, as ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade laboriously explained during his press conference Friday, are the contracts under which Verisign operates .com and .net.

The .com contract, through which Verisign derives most of its revenue, is slightly different to regular gTLD contracts in that the US has the right to veto terms if they’re considered anti-competitive.

The current contract, which runs through 2018, was originally going to retain Verisign’s right to increase its prices in most years, but it was vetoed by the US, freezing Verisign’s registry fee.

So not only has the US not said it will step away from .com oversight, but if it did it would be excellent news for Verisign, which would only have to strong-arm ICANN into letting it raise prices again.

Renewal of the .com and .net contracts shouldn’t be an issue either. The main rationale for putting .com up for rebid was to improve competition, but the new gTLD program is supposed to be doing that.

If new gTLDs, as a whole, are considered successful, I can’t see Verisign ever losing .com.

Verisign issued a statement before the markets opened today, saying:

The announcement by NTIA on Friday, March 14, 2014, does not affect Verisign’s operation of the .com and .net registries. The announcement does not impact Verisign’s .com or .net domain name business nor impact its .com or .net revenue or those agreements, which have presumptive rights of renewal.

ICANN reveals gTLD objections appeals process

Kevin Murphy, February 12, 2014, Domain Policy

Two new gTLD applicants would get the opportunity to formally appeal String Confusion Objection decisions that went against them, under plans laid out by ICANN today.

DERCars and United TLD (Rightside), which lost SCOs for their .cars and .cam applications respectively, would be the only parties able to appeal “inconsistent” objection rulings.

DERCars was told that its .cars was too similar to Google’s .car, forcing the two bids into a contention set. But Google lost similar SCO cases against two other .cars applicants.

Likewise, Rightside’s .cam application was killed off by a Verisign SCO that stated .cam and .com were too similar, despite two other .cam applicants prevailing in virtually identical cases.

Now ICANN plans to give both losing applicants the right to appeal these decisions to a three-person panel of “Last Resort” operated by the International Centre for Dispute Resolution.

ICDR was the body overseeing the original SCO process too.

Notably, ICANN’s new plan would not give Verisign and Google the right to appeal the two .cars/.cam cases they lost.

Only the applicant for the application that was objected to in the underlying SCO and lost (“Losing Applicant”) would have the option of whether to have the Expert Determination from that SCO reviewed.

There seems to be a presumption by ICANN already that what you might call the “minority” decision — ie, the one decision that disagreed with the other two — was the inconsistent one.

I wonder if that’s fair on Verisign.

Verisign lost two .cam SCO cases but won one, and only the one it won is open for appeal. But the two cases it lost were both decided by the same ICDR panelist, Murray Lorne Smith, on the same grounds. The decisions on .cam were really more 50-50 than they look.

According to the ICANN plan, there are two ways an appeal could go: the panel could decide that the original ruling should be reversed, or not. The standard of the review is:

Could the Expert Panel have reasonably come to the decision reached on the underlying SCO through an appropriate application of the standard of review as set forth in the Applicant Guidebook and procedural rules?

The appeals panelists would basically be asked to decide whether the original panelists are competent or not.

If the rulings were not reversed, the inconsistency would remain in place, making the contention sets for .car, .cars and .cam stay rather confusing.

ICANN said it would pay the appeals panel’s costs.

The plan (pdf) is now open for public comment.

MarkMonitor infiltrated by Syrian hackers targeting Facebook

Kevin Murphy, February 6, 2014, Domain Registrars

The corporate brand protection registrar MarkMonitor was reportedly hacked yesterday by the group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army, in an unsuccessful attempt to take out Facebook.

While MarkMonitor refused to confirm or deny the claims, the SEA, which has been conducting a campaign against high-profile western web sites for the last couple of years, tweeted several revealing screenshots.

One was a screen capture of a DomainTools Whois lookup for facebook.com, which does not appear to have been cached by DomainTools.

Another purported to be a cap of Facebook’s control panel at the registrar.

The SEA tweeted more caps purporting to show it had access to domains belonging to Amazon and Yahoo!.

In response to an inquiry, MarkMonitor rather amusingly told DI “we do not comment on our clients — including neither confirming nor denying whether or not a company is a client.”

This despite the fact that the company publishes a searchable database of its clients on its web site.

The attackers were unable to take down Facebook itself because the company has rather wisely chosen to set its domain to use Verisign’s Registry Lock anti-hijacking service.

Registry Lock prevents domains’ DNS settings being changed automatically via registrar control panels. Instead, registrants need to provide a security pass phrase over the phone.

It’s official: Verisign has balls of steel

Kevin Murphy, October 18, 2013, Domain Registries

Verisign has spent the last six months telling anyone who will listen that new gTLDs will kill Japanese people and cause electricity grids to fail, so you’d expect the company to be a little coy about its own activities that (applying Verisign logic) endanger life and the global economy.

But apparently not.

Verisign today decided to use the same blog it has been using to play up the risks indicated by NXDOMAIN traffic in new gTLDs to plug its own service that actively encourages people to register error-traffic domains.

The company has launched DomainScope, which combines several older “domain discovery” tools — DomainFinder, DomainScore and DomainCountdown — under one roof.

According to an unsigned corporate blog post, with my emphasis:

DomainScope enables users to discover domain name registration opportunities through learning about the recent history of a domain name, understanding a domain name’s DNS traffic patterns, and knowing which domains are available that are receiving traffic.

That’s right, Verisign is giving malicious hackers the ability, for free, to find out which .com, .net and .tv domains currently receive NXDOMAIN traffic, so that the hackers can pay Verisign to register them and cause mayhem.

I used the service today see what mischief might be possible, and hit paydirt on my first query.

Typing in “mail” as the search query, ordering the results by “Traffic Score” — a 1 to 10 measure of how much error traffic a domain already gets — I got these results:

You’ll notice (click to enlarge if you don’t) that the third result, with a 9.9 out of 10 score, is netsoolmail.net.

That caught my attention for obvious reasons, and a little Googling seems to confirm that it’s a typo of netsolmail.net, a domain Network Solutions uses for its mail servers (or possibly a spam filter).

Network Solutions is of course a top-ten registrar with millions of mostly high-end customers.

So what?

Well, if Verisign’s arguments are to be believed, this poses a huge risk of information leakage — something that should be avoided at all costs in new gTLDs but which is apparently just fine in .com and .net.

Emails set to go to netsoolmail.net will fail today due to an NXDOMAIN response. But what happens when somebody registers that domain (which is likely to happen about 10 minutes after this post is published)?

Do they suddenly start receiving thousands of sensitive emails intended for NetSol’s customers?

Could NetSol’s spam filters all start to fail, causing SOMEBODY TO DIE! from a dodgy Viagra?

I don’t know. No clue. Probably not.

But there’s a risk, right? Even if it’s a very small risk (as Verisign argues), shouldn’t ICANN be preventing Verisign from promoting these domains, maybe using some kind of massive block-list?

Data leakage is important enough to Versign that it was the headline risk it posed in a recent report aimed at getting new gTLDs delayed.

In an August “technical report” entitled “New gTLD Security, Stability, Resiliency Update: Exploratory Consumer Impact Analysis”, somebody from Verisign wrote (pdf):

once delegated, the registrants under new gTLDs have the ability to register specific domains for targeted collisions

This form of information leakage can violate privacy of users, provide a competitive advantage between business rivals, expose details of corporate network infrastructures, or even be used to infer details about geographical locations of network assets or users

What the report fails to mention is that registrants today have this ability, and that Verisign is actively encouraging the practice.

In Yiddish they call what Verisign has done today chutzpah.

In British English, we call it taking the piss.

Verisign targets bank claims in name collisions fight

Kevin Murphy, September 15, 2013, Domain Tech

Verisign has rubbished the Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s claim that its dot-brand gTLD, .cba, is safe.

In a lengthy letter to ICANN today, Verisign senior vice president Pat Kane said that, contrary to CBA’s claims, the bank is only responsible for about 6% of the traffic .cba sees at the root.

It’s the latest volley in the ongoing fight about the security risks of name collisions — the scenario where an applied-for gTLD string is already in broad use on internal networks.

CBA’s application for .cba has been categorized as “uncalculated risk” by ICANN, meaning it faces more reviews and three to six months of delay while its risk profile is assessed.

But in a letter to ICANN last month, CBA said “the cause of the name collision is primarily from CBA internal systems” and “it is within the CBA realm of control to detect and remediate said systems”.

The bank was basically claiming that its own computers use DNS requests for .cba already, and that leakage of those requests onto the internet was responsible for its relatively high risk profile.

At the time we doubted that CBA had access to the data needed to draw this conclusion and Verisign said today that a new study of its own “shows without a doubt that CBA’s initial conclusions are incorrect”.

Since the publication of Interisle Consulting’s independent review into root server error traffic — which led to all applied-for strings being split into risk categories — Verisign has evidently been carrying out its own study.

While Interisle used data collected from almost all of the DNS root servers, Verisign’s seven-week study only looked at data gathered from the A-root and J-root, which it manages.

According to Verisign, .cba gets roughly 10,000 root server queries per day — 504,000 in total over the study window — and hardly any of them come from the bank itself.

Most appear to be from residential apartment complexes in Chiba, Japan, where network admins seem to have borrowed the local airport code — also CBA — to address local devices.

About 80% of the requests seen come from devices using DNS Service Discovery services such as Bonjour, Verisign said.

Bonjour is an Apple-created technology that allows computers to use DNS to automatically discover other LAN-connected devices such as printers and cameras, making home networking a bit simpler.

Another source of the .cba traffic is McAfee’s antivirus software, made by Intel, which Verisign said uses DNS to check whether code is virus-free before executing it.

While error traffic for .cba was seen from 170 countries, Verisign said that Japan — notable for not being Australia — was the biggest source, with almost 400,000 queries (79% of the total). It said:

Our measurement study reveals evidence of a substantial Internet-connected infrastructure in Japan that lies beneath the surface of the public-facing internet, which appears to rely on the non-resolution of the string .CBA.

This infrastructure appear hierarchical and seems to include municipal and private administrative and service networks associated with electronic resource management for office and residential building facilities, as well as consumer devices.

One apartment block in Chiba is is responsible for almost 5% of the daily .cba queries — about 500 per day on average — according to Verisign’s letter, though there were 63 notable sources in total.

ICANN’s proposal for reducing the risk of these name collisions causing problems would require CBA, as the registry, to hunt down and warn organizations of .cba’s impending delegation.

Verisign reiterates the point made by RIPE NCC last month: this would be quite difficult to carry out.

But it does seem that Verisign has done a pretty good job tracking down the organizations that would be affected by .cba being delegated.

The question that Verisign’s letter and presentation does not address is: what would happen to these networks if .cba was delegated?

If .cba is delegated, what will McAfee’s antivirus software do? Will it crash the user’s computer? Will it allow unsafe code to run? Will it cause false positives, blocking users from legitimate content?

Or will it simply fail gracefully, causing no security problems whatsoever?

Likewise, what happens when Bonjour expects .cba to not exist and it suddenly does? Do Apple computers start leaking data about the devices on their local network to unintended third parties?

Or does it, again, cause no security problems whatsoever?

Without satisfactory answers to those questions, maybe name collisions could be introduced by ICANN with little to no effect, meaning the “risk” isn’t really a risk at all.

Answering those questions will of course take time, which means delay, which is not something most applicants want to hear right now.

Verisign’s study targeted CBA because CBA singled itself out by claiming to be responsible for the .cba error traffic, not because CBA is a client of rival registry Afilias.

The bank can probably thank Verisign for its study, which may turn out to be quite handy.

Still, it would be interesting to see Verisign conduct a similar study on, say, .windows (Microsoft), .cloud (Symantec) or .bank (Financial Services Roundtable), which are among the 35 gTLDs with “uncalculated” risk profiles that Verisign promised to provide back-end registry services for before it decided that new gTLDs were dangerous.

You can read Verisign’s letter and presentation here. I’ve rotated the PDF to make the presentation more readable here.