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Did Whois blow the lid off a Labour leadership coup, or is this just pig-fuckery?

Kevin Murphy, February 28, 2017, Gossip

A British Member of Parliament has been forced to deny he was behind the registration of several domain names promoting him as a future leader of the Labour party.

Clive Lewis, until recently a member of the shadow cabinet, told the Guardian yesterday that he did not register the batch of domains, which included cliveforleader.org.uk, cliveforlabour.org.uk and their matching .org, .uk and .co.uk domains.

“None of this is true: I haven’t done this,” he told the paper, following a Huffington Post article revealing the names had been registered June 29 last year, just a couple of days after he was appointed shadow defence secretary.

Lewis resigned from the shadow cabinet three weeks ago after refusing to vote in favor of triggering the Article 50 process that will take the UK out of the European Union.

The Labour Party has been dogged by stories about potential leadership challenges ever since Jeremy Corbyn — popular among grassroots party members, unpopular with voters — took over.

Questions about Corbyn’s leadership reemerged last week after a disastrous by-election defeat for the party.

The domains were taken as an indication that Lewis had been plotting a coup for many months, which he has denied.

The Whois records do not support a conclusion one way or another.

Under Nominet rules, individuals are allowed to keep their phone number, postal and email addresses out of Whois if the domains are to be used for non-commercial purposes, a right the registrant of the names in question chose to exercise.

Public Whois records show the .uk names registered to “Clive Lewis”, but contain no contact information.

They do contain the intriguing statement “Nominet was able to match the registrant’s name and address against a 3rd party data source on 29-Jun-2016”, a standard notice under Nominet’s Whois validation program.

But Nominet does not validate the identity of registrants, nor does it attempt to link the registrant’s name to their purported address.

The statement in the Whois records translates merely that Nominet was able to discover that a person called Clive Lewis exists somewhere in the world, and that the postal address given is a real address.

The .org and .com domains, registered the same day by the same registrar, use a Whois privacy service and contain no information about the registrant whatsoever.

Lewis himself suspects the batch of names may have been registered by a political opponent in order to force him to deny that he registered them, noting that fellow MP Lisa Nandy had a similar experience last July.

His initial statement to HuffPo, on which he reportedly declined to elaborate, was:

A lesson from LBJ [US President Lyndon B Johnson] in how to smash an opponent. Legend has it that LBJ, in one of his early congressional campaigns, told one of his aides to spread the story that Johnson’s opponent f*cked pigs. The aide responded: ‘Christ, Lyndon, we can’t call the guy a pigf*cker. It isn’t true.’ To which LBJ supposedly replied: ‘Of course it ain’t true, but I want to make the son-of-a-bitch deny it.’

Since then, along with his denial to the Guardian, he’s told his local Norwich newspaper that he’s tasked his lawyers with finding out who registered the names.

“I have instructed a solicitor to go away and look at this. They can try and make sure we find the identity, the IP address and the payment details,” he told the Eastern Daily Press.

Complaints about registrars dip in 2016

Kevin Murphy, February 2, 2017, Domain Registrars

There were slightly fewer complaints about domain name registrars in 2016, compared to 2015, according to newly published ICANN data, but complaints still run into the tens of thousands.

There were 43,156 complaints about registrars to ICANN Compliance in 2016, compared to 45,926 in 2015, according to the data (pdf). That’s a dip of about 6%.

The overall volume of complaints, and the dip, can be attributed to Whois.

About three quarters of the complaints directed at registrars in 2016 were for Whois inaccuracy — 32,292 complaints in total, down from 34,740 in 2015.

The number of complaints about gTLD registries was pretty much flat at 2,230, despite hundreds of new gTLDs being delegated during the year.

The vast majority of those gTLDs were dot-brands, however, with nowhere near the same kind of potential for abuse as generally available gTLDs.

The biggest cause for complaint against registries, representing about half the total, was the Zone File Access program. I’ve filed a few of these myself, against dot-brands that decide the ZFA policy doesn’t apply to them.

Formal, published breach notices were also down on the year, with 25 breaches, four suspensions and four terminations, compared to 32 breaches, six suspensions and eight terminations in 2015.

That’s the second consecutive year the number of breach notices was down.

Thick Whois policy for .com is now live

Kevin Murphy, February 2, 2017, Domain Registries

The domain name industry is kicking off one of its most fundamental shifts in its plumbing this week.

Over the next two years, Verisign and every registrar that sells .com domains will have to rejigger their systems to convert .com from a “thin” to “thick” Whois.

This means that by February 1, 2019, Verisign will for the first time control the master database of all Whois records for .com domains, rather than it being spread piecemeal across all registrars.

The switch comes as a result of a years-in-the-making ICANN policy that officially came into force yesterday. It also applies to .com stablemates .net and .jobs.

The first big change will come August 1 this year, the deadline by which Verisign has to give all of its registrars the ability to submit thick Whois records both live (for new regs) and in bulk (for existing ones).

May 1, 2018 is the deadline for all registrars to start submitting thick Whois for new regs to Verisign, but they can start doing so as early as August this year if they want to.

Registrars have until February 1, 2019 to supply Verisign with thick Whois for all their existing registrations.

There’s a process for registrars who believe they would be violating local privacy laws by transferring this data to US-based Verisign to request an exemption, which may prevent the transition going perfectly uniformly.

Some say that the implementation of this policy may allow Verisign to ask for the ability to ask a for an increase in .com registry fees — currently frozen at the command of the US government — due to its inevitably increased costs.

Personally, I think the added costs will likely be chickenfeed compared to the cash-printing machine that is .com, so I think it’s far from a slam-dunk that such fee increases would be approved.

Registrars off the hook for silly ICANN transfer policy

Kevin Murphy, December 27, 2016, Domain Registrars

Domain name registrars have been assured that ICANN Compliance will not pursue them for failing to implement the new Transfer Policy on privacy-protected names.

As we reported late November, the new policy requires registrars to send out “change of registrant” confirmation emails whenever certain fields in the Whois are changed, regardless of whether the registrant has actually changed.

The GNSO Council pointed out to ICANN a number of unforeseen flaws in the policy, saying that vulnerable registrants privacy could be at risk in certain edge cases.

They also pointed out that the confirmation emails could be triggered, with not action by the registrant, when privacy services automatically cycle proxy email addresses in the Whois.

This appears to have already happened with at least one registrar that wasn’t paying attention.

But ICANN chair Steve Crocker told the GNSO Council chair last week that ICANN staff have been instructed to ignore violations of the new policy, which came into effect December 1, in cases involving privacy-protected domains (pdf).

It’s a temporary measure until the ICANN board decides whether or not to defer the issue to the GNSO working group currently looking at policies specifically for privacy and proxy services.

Survey says most Whois records “accurate”

Kevin Murphy, December 13, 2016, Domain Policy

Ninety-seven percent of Whois records contain working email addresses and/or phone numbers, according to the results of an ongoing ICANN survey.

The organization yesterday published the second of its now-biannual WHOIS Accuracy Reporting System reports, a weighty document stuffed with facts and figures about the reliability of Whois records.

It found, not for the first time, that the vast majority of Whois records are not overtly fake.

Email addresses and phone numbers found there almost always work, the survey found, and postal addresses for the most part appear to be real postal addresses.

The survey used a sample of 12,000 domains over 664 gTLDs. It tested for two types of accuracy: “syntactical” and “operability”.

Syntactical testing just checks, for example, whether the email address has an @ symbol in it and whether phone numbers have the correct number of digits.

Operability testing goes further, actually phoning and emailing the Whois contacts to see if the calls connect and emails don’t bounce back.

For postal addresses, the survey uses third-party software to see whether the address actually exists. No letters are sent.

The latest survey found that 97% of Whois records contain at least one working phone number or email address, “which implies that nearly all records contain information that can be used to establish immediate contact.”

If you’re being more strict about how accurate you want your records, the number plummets dramatically.

Only 65% of records had operable phone, email and postal contact info in each of the registrant, administrative and technical contact fields.

Regionally, fully accurate Whois was up to 77% in North America but as low as 49.5% in Africa.

So it’s not great news if Whois accuracy is your bugbear.

Also, the survey does not purport to verify that the owners of the contact information are in fact the true registrants, only that the information is not missing, fake or terminally out-of-date.

A Whois record containing somebody else’s address and phone number and a throwaway webmail address would be considered “accurate” for the survey’s purposes.

The 54-page survey can be found over here.