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ICANN says Verisign should stay in charge of root zone

Kevin Murphy, May 21, 2014, Domain Policy

Verisign should stay in its key role in root zone management after the IANA transition process is complete, according to ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade.

The company currently acts as “maintainer”, alongside the US government as “administrator” and ICANN/IANA as “operator”.

This means Verisign is responsible for actually making changes — adding, deleting or amending the records for TLDs — in the root zone file.

In a blog post yesterday, Chehade said that ICANN will “establish a relationship directly with the third-party Maintainer”, adding:

As a means to help ensure stability, ICANN’s recommended implementation option is to have Verisign continue its role as the Maintainer. However, we will be working closely with all relevant parties including the Root Zone Operators to ensure there are contingency options in place to meet our absolute commitment to the stability, security and resiliency of the Domain Name System.

I wholeheartedly agree that Verisign should stay in its role, or at the very least that ICANN should not take over.

As we’ve learned over the last couple of years of software glitches in the new gTLD program, some of them security-related, ICANN would be a poor choice today to maintain this critical resource.

Chehade noted that the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration would be replaced in its “administrator” role by whatever mechanism the ICANN community comes up with during the transition process.

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.