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Verisign says new gTLDs put millions at risk

Kevin Murphy, May 26, 2016, Domain Tech

Verisign has revived its old name collisions security scare story, publishing this week a weighty research paper claiming millions are at risk of man-in-the-middle attacks.

It’s actually a study into how a well-known type of attack, first documented in the 1990s, might become easier due to the expansion of the DNS at the top level.

According to the paper there might be as many as 238,000 instances per day of query traffic intended for private networks leaking to the public DNS, where attackers could potentially exploit it to all manner of genuinely nasty things.

But Verisign has seen no evidence of the vulnerability being used by bad guys yet and it might not be as scary as it first appears.

You can read the paper here (pdf), but I’ll attempt to summarize.

The problem concerns a virtually ubiquitous protocol called WPAD, for Web Proxy Auto-Discovery.

It’s used by mostly by Windows clients to automatically download a web proxy configuration file that tells their browser how to connect to the web.

Organizations host these files on their local networks. The WPAD protocol tries to find the file using DHCP first, but fails over to DNS.

So, your browser might look for a wpad.dat file on wpad.example.com, depending on what domain your computer belongs to, using DNS.

The vulnerability arises because companies often use previously undelegated TLDs — such as .prod or .global — on their internal networks. Their PCs could belong to domains ending in .corp, even though .corp isn’t real TLD in the DNS root.

When these devices are roaming outside of their local network, they will still attempt to use the DNS to find their WPAD file. And if the TLD their company uses internally has actually been delegated by ICANN, their WPAD requests “leak” to registry or registrant.

A malicious attacker could register a domain name in a TLD that matches the domain the target company uses internally, allowing him to intercept and respond to the WPAD request and setting himself up as the roaming laptop’s web proxy.

That would basically allow the attacker to do pretty much whatever he wanted to the victim’s browsing experience.

Verisign says it saw 20 million WPAD leaks hit its two root servers every single day when it collected its data, and estimates that 6.6 million users are affected.

The paper says that of the 738 new gTLDs it looked at, 65.7% of them saw some degree of WPAD query leakage.

The ones with the most leaks, in order, were .global, .ads, .group, .network, .dev, .office, .prod, .hsbc, .win, .world, .one, .sap and .site.

It’s potentially quite scary, but there are some mitigating factors.

First, the problem is not limited to new gTLDs.

Yesterday I talked to Matt Larson, ICANN’s new vice president of research (who held the same post at Verisign’s until a few years ago).

He said ICANN has seen the same problem with .int, which was delegated in 1988. ICANN runs one of .int’s authoritative name servers.

“We did a really quick look at 24 hours of traffic and saw a million and a half queries for domain names of the form wpad.something.int, and that’s just one name server out of several in a 24-hour period,” he said.

“This is not a new problem, and it’s not a problem that’s specific to new gTLDs,” he said.

According to Verisign’s paper, only 2.3% of the WPAD query leaks hitting its root servers were related to new gTLDs. That’s about 238,000 queries every day.

With such a small percentage, you might wonder why new gTLDs are being highlighted as a problem.

I think it’s because organizations typically won’t own the new gTLD domain name that matches their internal domain, something that would eliminate the risk of an attacker exploiting a leak.

Verisign’s report also has limited visibility into the actual degree of risk organizations are experiencing today.

Its research methodology by necessity was limited to observing leaked WPAD queries hitting its two root servers before the new gTLDs in question were delegated.

The company only collected relevant NXDOMAIN traffic to its two root servers — DNS queries with answers typically get resolved closer to the user in the DNS hierarchy — so it has no visibility to whether the same level of leaks happen post-delegation.

Well aware of the name collisions problem, largely due to Verisign’s 11th-hour epiphany on the subject, ICANN forces all new gTLD registries to wildcard their zones for 90 days after they go live.

All collision names are pointed to 127.0.53.53, a reserved IP address picked in order to catch the attention of network administrators (DNS uses TCP/IP port 53).

Potentially, at-risk organizations could have fixed their collision problems shortly after the colliding gTLD was delegated, reducing the global impact of the vulnerability.

There’s no good data showing how many networks were reconfigured due to name collisions in the new gTLD program, but some anecdotal evidence of admins telling Google to go fuck itself when .prod got delegated.

A December 2015 report from JAS Advisors, which came up with the 127.0.53.53 idea, said the effects of name collisions have been rather limited.

ICANN’s Larson echoed the advice put out by security watchdog US-CERT this week, which among other things urges admins to use proper domain names that they actually control on their internal networks.

XYZ settles Verisign’s back-end switcheroo lawsuit

XYZ.com has settled a lawsuit filed against it against Verisign stemming from XYZ’s acquisition of .theatre, .security and .protection.

Verisign sued the new gTLD registry operator for “interfering” with its back-end contracts with the previous owners last August, as part of its campaign to compete against new gTLDs in the courtroom.

XYZ had acquired the .security and .protection ICANN contracts from security Symantec, and .theatre from a company called KBE Holdings.

As part of the transitions, all three applications were modified with ICANN to name CentralNic as the back-end registry services provider, replacing Verisign.

Verisign sued on the basis of tortious interference and business conspiracy. It was thrown out of court in November then amended and re-filed.

But the case appears to have now been settled.

Negari issued a grovelling not-quite-apology statement on his blog:

I am pleased to report that the recent case filed by Verisign against CentralNic, Ltd., XYZ and myself has been settled. After looking at the claims in dispute, we regret that as a result of our acquisition of the .theatre, .security and .protection extensions and our arrangement for CentralNic to serve as the backend service provider for these extensions, that Verisign was prevented from the opportunity to pursue monetization of those relationships. As ICANN’s new gTLD program continues to evolve, we would caution others who find themselves in similar situations to be mindful of the existing contracts extension owners may have with third parties.

Registries changing their minds about their back-end provider is not unheard of.

In this case, large portions of Verisign’s final amended complaint were redacted, suggesting some peculiarities to this particular switch.

If there was a monetary component to the settlement, it was not disclosed. The original Verisign complaint had demanded damages of over $2 million.

Verisign facing its own activist investor

Kevin Murphy, April 29, 2016, Domain Registries

While new gTLD registries Rightside and Minds + Machines have faced board-room challenges by activist investors in recent months, it seems industry heavyweight Verisign is contended with a similar problem.

John Chevedden, once described as an “economy class” activist due to his relatively small stakes, is attempting to give smaller Verisign shareholders the ability to propose directors for the company’s board.

Rather than attempting to gut the companies he invests in, he tries to make the odd incision into their corporate governance in order to give smaller investors a greater voice in their companies.

He’s filed a proposal, which will be voted on at Verisign’s June 9 annual general meeting, for a new “proxy access” bylaw.

Essentially, the proposal would allow an unlimited number of shareholders who collectively own over 3% of the company’s stock to propose two people for director elections (or 25% of the board, whichever is greater).

But Verisign’s current board is recommending that shareholders vote against the proposal, saying it’s “unnecessary”.

The company says that it plans to introduce its own proxy access bylaw that would be slightly different.

The Verisign alternative would limit the size of the nominating gang to 20 shareholders. That would mean that each individual investor would have to own much larger stakes, in order to pass the 3% threshold and nominate director candidates.

Verisign says Chevedden’s proposal, which does not limit the number of small shareholders involved, would be expensive and unwieldy to manage.

Chevedden reportedly has quite a decent success rate with these kinds of proposals.

Verisign has great quarter but sees China growth slowing

Kevin Murphy, April 29, 2016, Domain Registries

Verisign beat its sales expectations in the first quarter of the year, but leadership said rapid growth from Chinese registrants will now “normalize”.

The .com/.net registry last night reported net income up 21% at $107 million, on revenue that was up 9.1% to $282 million.

That’s based primarily on it selling 2.65 million net new .com/.net names during the quarter, at 7.1% increase on the Q1 2014 level baseline. It said it sold 10 million new names in the quarter, up from 8.7 million a year ago.

For comparison, Q1 2015 saw 1.51 million net adds across the two TLDs. Three months ago, the company had predicted net adds to be 1.5 to 2 million names.

It had 142.5 million names at the end of the quarter, 126.6 million of which were .com.

CEO James Bidzos told analysts: “We again saw activity coming from registrars in China that exceeded our expectations.”

However, he added: “At this point, we expect activity from registrars in China to normalize as we continue through the second quarter.”

When pressed, CFO George KIlguss elaborated (according to the SeekingAlpha earnings call transcript):

as we look at the trends, we’ve seen the demand that happened in the second half of the first quarter kind of ebb and flow. So we saw it come. It was pretty strong for a few weeks and then it came back to more than normalized path. So we don’t have a perfect crystal ball, but based on the trends that we’ve seen that we’ve been tracking, it seems to be back on the normalized path for that particular region, at least as what we’ve seen historically.

Verisign is currently negotiating for the renewal of its .com contract with ICANN, which may or may not enable it to raise its government-frozen registry prices in future.

Porn firm wins .cam after years of objections

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2015, Domain Registries

The controversial new gTLD .cam has been won at auction by Dutch porn site operator AC Webconnecting, putting an end to over two years of back-and-forth objections.

Rival applicants Rightside and Famous Four Media both withdrew their applications earlier this week.

The contest for .cam was marked by several objections and appeals.

In 2013, Verisign filed and lost String Confusion Objections against AC Webconnecting and Famous Four, but won its near-identical objection against Rightside.

Verisign had claimed that .cam and .com are so similar-looking that confusion among internet users is bound to arise.

Because the SCO panels in the three cases returned differing opinions, Rightside was one of two applicants given the right to appeal by ICANN in October 2014.

I never quite understood why Verisign wasn’t also given the right to appeal.

Rightside won the right to stay in the .cam contention set almost a year later.

Despite all that effort, it did not prevail in the resulting auction.

Separately, back in 2013, AC Webconnecting filed and lost Legal Rights Objections against its two rivals, based on a “.cam” trademark it acquired purely for the purpose of fighting off new gTLD competitors.

I’d be lying if I said I knew a lot about the soon-to-be registry.

Based in Rotterdam, its web site comes across as a wholly safe-for-work web design firm.

However, it seems to be mainly in the business of operating scores, if not hundreds, of webcam-based porn sites.

Its application for .cam states that it will be for everyone with an interest in photography, however.

When it goes live, its most direct competitor is likely to be Famous Four’s .webcam, which already has an 18-month and 70,000-domain head start.

It remains to be seen whether its clear similarity to .com will in fact cause significant confusion.