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Google leaks 282,000 private Whois records

Kevin Murphy, March 13, 2015, Domain Registrars

Google has accidentally revealed registrant contact information for 282,867 domain names that were supposed to be protected by a privacy service.

The bug reportedly affected 94% of the 305,925 domains registered via Google Apps, an eNom reseller.

The glitch was discovered by Cisco and reported to Google February 19. It has since been fixed and customers were notified yesterday.

Google acknowledged in an email to customers that the problem was caused by a “software defect in the Google Apps domain renewal system”.

It seems that anyone who acquired a domain with privacy through Google Apps since mid-2013 and has since renewed the registration will have had their identities unmasked in Whois upon renewal.

Names, addresses, emails and phone numbers were revealed.

Due to services such as DomainTools, which cache Whois records, there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. The information is out there for good now.

It’s a pretty major embarrassment for Google, which recently launched its own registrar.

Nominet to give nod to .uk privacy services

Kevin Murphy, March 12, 2015, Domain Registries

Nominet plans to start accrediting proxy/privacy services in .uk domain names, and to make it easier to opt-out of having your full contact details published in Whois.

The proposed policy changes are outlined in a consultation opened this morning.

“We’ve never recognized privacy services,” director of policy Eleanor Bradley told DI. “If you’ve registered a .uk with a privacy service, we consider the privacy service to be the registrant of that domain name.”

“We’ve been pretending almost that they didn’t exist,” she said.

Under the proposed new regime, registrars would submit a customer’s full contact details to Nominet, but Nominet would publish the privacy service’s information in the domain’s Whois output.

Nominet, getting its hands on the customer data for the first time, would therefore start treating the end customer as the true registrant of the domain.

The company says that introducing the service would require minimal work and that it does not intend to charge registrars an additional fee.

Currently, use of privacy services in .uk is pretty low — just 0.7% of its domains, up from 0.09% a year ago.

Bradley said such services are becoming increasingly popular due to some large UK registrars beginning to offer them.

One of the reasons for low penetration is that quite a lot of privacy is already baked in to the .uk Whois database.

If you’re an individual, as opposed to a “trading” business, you’re allowed to opt-out of having any personal details other than your name published in Whois.

A second proposed reform would make that opt-out available to a broader spectrum of registrants, Nominet says.

“We’ve found over the last few years that it’s quite a hard distinction to draw,” Bradley said. “We’ve had some criticisms for our overly strict application of that.”

In future, the opt-out would be available according to these criteria:

i. The registrant must be an individual; and,
ii. The domain name must not be used:
a) to transact with customers (merchant websites);
b) to collect personal data from subjects (ie data controllers as defined in the Data Protection Act);
c) to primarily advertise or promote goods, services, or facilities.

The changes would allow an individual blogger to monetize her site with advertising without being considered a “trading” entity, according to Nominet.

But a line would be drawn where an individual collected personal data on users, such as email addresses for a mailing list, Bradley said.

Nominet says in its consultation documents:

Our continued commitment to Nominet’s role as the central register of data will enable us to properly protect registrants’ rights, release contact data where necessary under the existing exemptions, and maintain public confidence in the register. It acknowledges that some registrants may desire privacy, whilst prioritising the core function of the registry in holding accurate records.

The proposals are open for comments until June 3, which means they could potentially become policy later this year.

Here’s how the new number two new gTLD got so big so quick

Kevin Murphy, January 13, 2015, Domain Registries

Attentive DI readers will recall my journalistic meltdown last week, when I tried to figure out how the Chinese new gTLD .网址 managed to hit #2 in the new gTLD zone file size league table, apparently shifting a quarter of a million names in a week.

Well, after conversations with well-placed sources here at NamesCon in Las Vegas this week, I’ve figured it out.

.网址 is the Chinese for “.url”.

Its rapid growth — hitting 352,000 names today — can be attributed primarily to two factors.

First, these weren’t regular sales. The registry, Knet, which acquired original applicant Hu Yi last year, operates a keyword-based navigation system in China that predates Chinese-script gTLDs.

The company has simply grandfathered its keyword customers into .网址, I’m told.

The keyword system allows Latin-script domains too, which explains the large number of western brands that appear in the .网址 zone.

The second reason for the huge bump is the fact that many of the domains are essentially duplicates.

Chinese script has “traditional” and “simplified” characters, and in many cases domains in .网址 are simply the traditional equivalents of the simplified versions.

I understand that these duplicates may account for something like 30% of the zone file.

I’ve been unable to figure out definitively why the .网址 Whois database appeared to be so borked.

As I noted last week, every domain in the .网址 space had a Knet email address listed in its registrant, admin and technical contact fields.

It seems that Knet was substituting the original email addresses with its own when Whois queries were made over port 43, rather than via its own web site.

Its own Whois site (which doesn’t work for me) returned the genuine email addresses, but third-party Whois services such as DomainTools and ICANN returned the bogus data.

Whether Knet did this by accident or design, I don’t know, but it would have almost certainly have been a violation of its contractual commitments under its ICANN Registry Agreement.

However, as of today, third-party Whois tools are now returning the genuine Whois records, so whatever the reason was, it appears to be no longer an issue.

The new massive number two new gTLD has me paralyzed with confusion

Kevin Murphy, January 8, 2015, Domain Registries

The Chinese-script gTLD .网址 powered to the number two spot in the new gTLD rankings by zone file size this week, but it’s doing some things very strangely.

.网址 is Chinese for “.site”, “.url” or “.webaddress”.

The registry is Hu Yi Global, ostensibly a Hong Kong-based registrar but, judging by IANA’s records, actually part of its Beijing-based back-end Knet.

I’m going to come out and admit it: even after a few hours research I still don’t know a heck of a lot about these guys. The language barrier has got me, and the data is just weird.

These are the things I can tell you:

  • .网址 has 352,727 domains in its zone file today, up by about a quarter of a million names since the start of the week.
  • The names all seem to be using knet.cn name servers
  • I don’t think any of them resolve on the web. I tried loads and couldn’t find so much as a parking page. Google is only aware of about eight resolving .网址 pages.
  • They all seem to have been registered via the same Chinese registrar, which goes by the name of ZDNS (also providing DNS for the TLD itself).
  • They all seem to be registered with “nameinfo@knet.com” in the email address field for the registrant, admin and technical contacts in Whois, even when the registrants are different.
  • That’s even true for dozens of famous trademarks I checked — whether it’s the Bank of China or Alexander McQueen, they’re all using nameinfo@knet.cn as their email address.
  • I’ve been unable to find a Whois record with a completed Registrant Organization field.
  • Nobody seems to be selling these things. ZDNS (officially Internet Domain Name System Beijing Engineering Research Center) is apparently the only registrar to sell any so far and its web site doesn’t say a damn thing about .网址. The registry’s official nic.网址 site doesn’t even have any information about how to buy one either.
  • ZDNS hasn’t sold a single domain in any other gTLD.
  • News reports in China, linked to from the registry’s web site, boast about how .网址 is the biggest IDN TLD out there.

So what’s going on here? Are we looking at a Chinese .xyz? A bunch of registry-reserved names? A seriously borked Whois?

Don’t expect any answers from DI today on this one. I’ve been staring at Chinese characters for hours and my brain is addled.

I give up. You tell me.

.uk suspension problems worse than I thought

Kevin Murphy, December 31, 2014, Domain Registrars

Problems validating the addresses of .uk domain registrants, which caused one registrar to dump the TLD entirely, are broader than I reported yesterday.

Cronon, which does business as Strato, announced last week that it has stopped selling .uk domain names because in more than a third of cases Nominet, the registry, is unable to validate the Whois data.

In many cases the domain is subsequently suspended, causing customer support headaches.

It now transpires that the problems are not limited to .uk second-level names, are not limited to UK registrants, and are not caused primarily by mailing address validation failures.

Michael Shohat, head of registrar services at Cronon, got in touch last night to clarify that most of its affected customers are in fact from its native Germany or from the Netherlands.

All of the affected names are .co.uk names, not .uk SLDs, he added.

And the validation is failing in the large majority of cases not due to Nominet’s inability to validate a mailing address, but rather its inability to validate the identity of the registrant.

“This is where the verification is failing. The database they are using can’t find many of our registrants’ company names,” Shohat said.

“So 30% of our registrations were being put on hold, almost all of them from [Germany] and [the Netherlands], and 90% of them because of the company name. We checked lots of them and in every single case the name of the company was correct, and the address as well,” he said.

Michele Neylon of the ICANN Registrar Stakeholders Group said that Cronon is not the only registrar to have been affected by these issues. Blacknight Solutions, the registrar Neylon runs, has been complaining about the problem since May.

According to Neylon, the Nominet policy causing the issue is its data quality policy, which covers all .uk and .co.uk (etc) names.

The policy itself is pretty vague — Nominet basically says it will work with each individual registrar to determine a baseline of what can be considered a “minimum proportion of valid data”, given the geographic makeup of the registrar’s customer base.

Domains that fail to meet these criteria have a “Data Quality Lock” imposed — essentially a suspension of the domain’s ability to resolve.

Earlier this year, Nominet did backtrack on plans to implement an automatic cancellation of the names after 30 days of non-compliance, following feedback from its registrars.

“It’s disappointing that Cronon have taken this step; we hope they will consider working with us to find a way to move forward,” a Nominet spokesperson added.

She said that the registry has over recent years moved to “more proactive enforcement” of Whois accuracy. She pointed out that Nominet takes on the “lion’s share of the work”, reducing the burden on registrars.

“However, our solution does not include non-UK data sets to cross-reference with, so it is possible that some false positives occur,” she said. “Registrars with a large non-UK registrant bases, who are not accredited channel partners, would be affected more than others.”

An Accredited Channel Partner is the top tier of the three Nominet offers to registrars. It has additional data validation requirements but additional benefits.

While .co.uk domains are not limited to UK-based registrants, all .uk SLD registrants do need to have a UK mailing address in their Whois for legal service.

The company’s inability to validate many non-UK business identities seems to mean .co.uk could also slowly become a UK-only space by the back door.