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NetBeacon goes live for DNS abuse reporting

Kevin Murphy, June 10, 2022, Domain Tech

The DNS Abuse Institute has gone live with its new clearinghouse for DNS abuse reports, NetBeacon.

The service allows anyone to report any domain for four types of abuse — malware, phishing, botnets and spam — and any registry or registrar can sign up to receive the reports in a normalized feed via email or API.

The idea is to make it easier for domain companies to act on reports of abusive customers, as DNSAI director Graeme Bunton told us a few months ago.

NetBeacon is free for both reporters and registrars and is being funded by .org manager Public Interest Registry.

Some of the technology underpinning the service is being provided by CleanDNS.

ICANN extends Covid-19 abuse monitoring to Ukraine war

Kevin Murphy, March 9, 2022, Domain Policy

ICANN has started monitoring domains related to the war in Ukraine for potential abuse, expanding an ongoing project related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

CEO Göran Marby has during multiple sessions at ICANN 73 this week said that the Org will soon announce an extension of its DNSTICR project — pronounced “DNS Ticker” and standing for Domain Name Security Threat Information Collection & Reporting.

The plan is to alert registrars about Ukraine-related domain names being used to scam people or drop malware.

“There will be coming up more information about this very soon, but we have decided to also add names in relationship to the conflict in Ukraine,” Marby said during a session with the Commercial Stakeholders Group.

DNSTICR was launched in March 2020, when the pandemic was in full swing, to find new domains containing keywords such as “covid”, “pandemic” and “coronavirus”, and check them against domain abuse lists.

From May 2020 to August last year, it flagged 210,939 pandemic-related domains, and found that 3,791 of them were malicious with “high confidence”.

CTO John Crain said in a session on Monday: “There’s a lot of stuff in the press and some technical papers out there that show clearly that the bad guys, as always, have, once again, pivoted to whatever is happening in the world. So if we can do a little bit to help, we will.”

PIR to offer industry FREE domain abuse clearinghouse

Kevin Murphy, February 11, 2022, Domain Registries

The DNS Abuse Institute will soon launch a free service designed to make it easier to report abuse and for registries and registrars to act upon it.

The Institute, which is funded by .org manager Public Interest Registry, is working on a system provisionally called CART, for Centralized Abuse Reporting Tool, an ambitious project that would act as a clearinghouse for abuse reports across the industry.

The plan is to offer the service for free to reporters and registrars alike, with a beta being offered to registrars late next month and a public launch hopefully before ICANN 74 in June.

DNSAI director Graeme Bunton said that CART is meant to solve the “mess” of current abuse reporting systems.

For abuse reporters, the idea is to give them a one-stop shop for their reports, across all gTLDs and registrars. CART would take their complaints, normalize them, furnish them with additional information from sources such as Whois records and domain block-lists, and shunt them off to the registrar of record.

“Registrars get boatloads of abuse reports every day,” Bunton said. “Hundreds to thousands. They’re often duplicative, often unevidenced — almost always. There’s no standardization. So they’re having to spend a lot of time reading and parsing these abuse reports.”

“They’re spending a huge amount of time triaging tickets that don’t make the internet any better,” he said. “It felt like trying to solve this problem across every individual registry and registrar was not going to work, and that a centralizing function that sits in the middle and absorbs a lot of the complexity would make a real difference, and we’ve been working towards that.”

CART reporters would be authenticated, and their reports would be filed through forms that normalized the data to make them easier for registrars to understand. There will be “evidence requirements” to submit a report.

“It’s a common lament that the abuse@ email that registrars have to publish are filled with garbage,” Bunton said. “This is intended to clean that up, as well as make it easier for reporters.”

Registrars will be able to white-label these forms on their own sites, replacing or adding to existing reporting mechanisms, which will hopefully drive adoption of the tool, Bunton said.

Registrars will be able to use an API to pull the abuse feed into their existing ticketing workflows, or simply receive the reports via email.

The plan is to send these enhanced reports to registrars’ publicly listed abuse@ addresses, whether they opt into the CART system or not, Bunton said.

One feature idea — possibly in a version 2 release — is to have a reputation-scoring function in which registrars can flag reporters as reliable, facilitating on-the-fly “trusted notifier” relationships.

While the DNSAI is focusing to the industry definition of “DNS abuse” — phishing, pharming, malware, botnets and a subset of spam — the plan is to not limit reporters to just those categories.

Copyright infringement claims, for example, would be acceptable forms of abuse report, if the registrar enables that option when they embed the CART forms on their own sites.

CART will most likely be renamed to something with “better mass-market appeal” before it launches, Bunton said, but there will be no charge to reporters or registrars.

“This is all free, with no plans to do cost-recovery or anything like that,” he said.

While Bunton didn’t want to comment, I think it’s unlikely that these projects would be going ahead, at least not for free, had PIR been turned into a for-profit company under its proposed acquisition by Ethos Capital, which was blocked by ICANN a couple of years ago.

A second project DNSAI is working on is called Intelligence.

This will be somewhat similar to ICANN’s own Domain Abuse Activity Reporting (DAAR) system, but with greater granularity, such as giving the ability to see abuse trends by registry or registrar.

The current plan is to have a preview of Intelligence available in June, with a launch in July.

Verisign and PIR join new DNS abuse group

Kevin Murphy, February 9, 2022, Domain Policy

The domain name industry has just got its fourth (by my count) DNS abuse initiative, with plans for work on “trusted notifier” programs and Public Interest Registry and Verisign as members.

topDNS, which announced itself this week, is a project out of eco, the German internet industry association. It said its goals are:

the exchange of best practices, the standardisation of abuse reports, the development of a trusted notifier framework, and awareness campaigns towards policy makers, decision-makers and expert groups

eco’s Thomas Rickert told DI that members inside and outside the industry had asked for such an initiative to combat “the narrative that industry is not doing enough against an ever-increasing problem”.

He said there’s a “worrying trend” of the domain industry being increasingly seen as an easy bottleneck to get unwelcome content taken down, rather than going after the content or hosting provider.

“There is not an agreed-upon definition of what constitutes DNS abuse,” he said.

“There are groups interested in defining DNS abuse very broadly, because it’s more convenient for them I guess to go to a registrar or registry and ask for a domain takedown rather than trying to get content taken down with a hosting company,” he said.

topDNS has no plans to change the definition of “DNS abuse” that has already been broadly agreed upon by the legit end of the industry.

The DNS Abuse Framework, which was signed by 11 major registries and registrars (now, it’s up to 48 companies) in 2019 defines it as “malware, botnets, phishing, pharming, and spam (when it serves as a delivery mechanism for the other forms of DNS Abuse)”.

This is pretty much in line with their ICANN contractual obligations; ICANN itself shudders away from being seen as a content regulator.

The big asterisk next to “spam” perhaps delineates “domains” from “content”, but the Framework also recommends that registries and registrars should act against content when it comprises child sexual abuse material, illegal opioid sales, human trafficking, and “specific and credible” incitements to violence.

Rickert said the plan with topDNS is to help “operationalize” these definitions, providing the domain industry with things like best practice documents.

Of particular interest, and perhaps a point of friction with other parties in the ecosystem in future, is the plan to work on “the development of a trusted notifier framework”.

Trusted notifier systems are in place at a handful of gTLD and ccTLD registries already. They allow organizations — typically law enforcement or Big Content — a streamlined, structured path to get domains taken down when the content they lead to appears to be illegal.

The notifiers get a more reliable outcome, while the registries get some assurances that the notifiers won’t take the piss with overly broad or spammy takedown requests.

topDNS will work on templates for such arrangements, not on the arrangements themselves, Rickert said. Don’t expect the project to start endorsing certain notifiers.

Critics such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation find such programs bordering on censorship and therefore dangerous to free speech.

While the topDNS initiative only has six named members right now, it does have Verisign (.com and .net) and PIR (.org), which together look after about half of all extant domains across all TLDs. It also has CentralNic, a major registrar group and provider of back-end services for some of the largest new gTLDs.

“Verisign is pleased to support the new topDNS initiative, which will help bring together stakeholders with an interest in combating and mitigating DNS security threats,” a company spokesperson said.

Unlike CentralNic and PIR, Verisign is not currently one of the 48 signatories of the DNS Abuse Framework, but the spokesperson said topDNS is “largely consistent” with that effort.

Verisign has also expressed support for early-stage trusted notifier framework discussions being undertaken by ICANN’s registry and registrar stakeholder groups.

PIR also has its own separate project, the DNS Abuse Institute, which is working on similar stuff, along with some tools to support the paperwork.

DNSAI director Graeme Bunton said: “I see these efforts as complementary, not competing, and we are happy to support and participate in each of them.” He’s going to be on topDNS’s inaugural Advisory Council, he and Rickert said.

Rickert and Bunton both pointed out that topDNS is not going to be limited to DNS abuse issues alone — that’s simply the most pressing current matter.

Rickert said issues such as DNS over HTTP and blockchain naming systems could be of future interest.

Most registrars fail ICANN abuse audit

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2021, Domain Registrars

The large majority of accredited registrars failed an abuse-related audit at the first pass, according to ICANN.

(UPDATE October 14, 2021: ICANN disagrees with this characterization.)

The audit of 126 registrars, representing over 90% of all registered gTLD domains, founds that 111 were “not fully compliant with the [Registrar Accreditation Agreement’s] requirements related to the receiving and handling of DNS abuse reports”.

Only 15 companies passed with flying colors, ICANN said.

A further 92 have already put in place changes to address the identified concerns, with 19 more still struggling to come into compliance.

The particular parts of the RAA being audited require registrars to publish an abuse email address that it monitored 24/7 and to take action on well-founded cases of abuse within 24 hours of notification.

The results of the audit, carried out by ICANN Compliance and KPMG, can be found here (pdf).

Israeli registrar denies “arms dealer” claims

Israeli registrar GalComm has denied being involved in a widespread malware distribution scheme after being fingered by a security outfit.

Last month Awake Security accused the registrar, officially Communigal Communication Ltd, of being “at best complicit in malicious activity”.

The firm published a report entitled “The Internet’s New Arms Dealers: Malicious Domain Registrars” which linked GalComm to a network of malicious Chrome browser extensions the firm said can steal sensitive data from users who have them installed.

It identified 111 such plug-ins, which it said have been downloaded 33 million times, using over 15,000 domains registered via GalComm.

GalComm has around 48,000 domains registered in gTLDs at the last count, so that’s a sizable percentage of the registrar’s business.

Awake came to the conclusion that GalComm was well-aware of what its customers were up to.

Now, the registrar has sent a cease-and-desist notice to Awake, CC’d to ICANN (pdf), in which it denies all knowledge and responsibility for the malware.

GalComm’s line, to summarize, is that it’s just a registrar, and that it has no obligation to monitor how its customers use their domains.

It adds that the domains in question amount to 10% of its DUM. Still a pretty big chunk.

The company wants Awake to retract its report by today, which it has not yet done, or it will call in the lawyers.

An open question to the domain name industry about coronavirus

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2020, Domain Policy

“Don’t worry. We’ve done this before.”
That was pretty much the first sentence out of my grandmother’s mouth when I called to wish her a happy Mother’s Day.
She was talking about World War II and the immediate post-war years. She’s 94, so she saw both.
She’s no Uncle Albert. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her talk about “The War” before. Not once. But when her grandson called her for the first time in embarrassing months, that was where her mind went straight away.
They couldn’t get oranges, for years, back then. If you were diabetic, you couldn’t get sugar, but they gave you extra butter instead. She developed an aversion to canned pineapple chunks that persists to this day. She still has her ration book, a souvenir of trying times, squirreled away somewhere.
She was in generally good spirits. She knows that Covid-19, if it gets through the front door of her granny flat, will very likely be the end of her. Her mind is fully intact, but her body is all kinds of fucked up. But she and the family members who bring her food are taking the proper precautions. And, she said, she’s been self-isolating since November anyway. What’s another 12 weeks?
The WWII comparison was not at all surprising to hear, of course. A lot of us have been thinking similar things. The media is currently resplendent with uplifting examples of what we Brits refer to as the “Blitz spirit” — unity and stoicism in the face of overwhelming adversity.
There are significant differences, of course.
The enemy now is not an identifiable political faction with a skull on its cap, but a remorseless, invisible beastie. The Allies are not a collection of like-minded liberal nations, but literally the entire human species.
The baddies don’t want to shoot you. They want to infiltrate your nasal cavity and make you accidentally kill your parents with a hug. You kill them with soap.
Back then, we required young men to travel overseas to kill and potentially die to serve the greater good. We asked the women they left behind to take to the factory floors and work traditionally male jobs. Now, all we ask of them is that they don’t go down the pub on a Saturday night, and apparently sometimes even that’s too big of an ask.
Society is asking me to work from home during the day and do nothing more than watch TV and play Xbox in the evenings. Fine. I can do that. I was doing that anyway. This, apparently, is how my generation gets to save lives.
It doesn’t feel like much of a sacrifice.
Worldwide, people are sitting alone at home, twiddling their thumbs, watching slightly-less-than-hi-def Netflix, and wondering how they can do more to make a positive difference in this civilizational battle.
In the domain industry, we’ve recently seen the Internet Commerce Association attempt to help out people who are financially struggling due to coronavirus with its #DomainAssist Twitter campaign.
I’m not sure how effective it’s going to be, but ICA members have money, are trying to make a difference, and I’m certainly not going to knock them for it.
But there is one battle that the domain industry is uniquely positioned, and maybe even obligated, to fight.
That’s the fight against misinformation.
The World Health Organization started alerting the world to the Covid-19 “infodemic” in early February.
“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom said at the Munich Security Conference February 15. “Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous.”
Hear that? The world’s top doc says that misinformation is just as dangerous as something that could kill your grandmother.
Just as crime flourished in London during the Blitz, 21st century fraudsters have been quick to take advantage of the coronavirus panic.
The fake news ranges from the harmlessly satirical — a quarantined Tom Hanks being supplied with a volleyball for company — to the life-threatening — tales of how ingesting silver, taking cocaine or drinking bleach can protect your from the virus.
In India, fake news is persuading people to drink cow piss.
Some of these scammers are just conspiracy theorists raging against the Big Pharma machine. Others are actively trying to make money hawking bogus and dangerous fake vaccines and cures. In the era of pandemic, they’re just as bad as each other.
It’s serious stuff. An infected person who thinks they’ve ingested the magic cure is less likely to take the proper precautions and more likely to transmit the virus to others, who will transmit it to others, who will transmit it to others… and then a bunch of people die.
So far, the WHO and other health authorities have rightly been focused largely on the social media platforms where the majority of this bogosity spreads.
The likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google have made changes to their usage policies or content-promotion algorithms in response to the crisis.
Twitter has banned tweets that go against the official guidance on reducing the spread of the virus. Facebook is promoting authoritative news sources and fact-checking misinformation. Google searches for coronavirus return curated, science-based info embedded in the results page, and banned coronavirus-related advertising. YouTube is taking down videos peddling dangerous misinformation.
The social media side of the technology industry certainly seems to be backtracking on its usual “we just a neutral platform” stance.
But it’s not just happening on social media. Many of these posts lead to web sites that are harmful. Some are simple frauds and phishing attacks. Others promote fake cures or urge readers to ignore the official science-based advice.
These web sites use domain names. Thousands have been registered in recent weeks.
NewsGuard has identified dozens of web sites that are promoting coronavirus misinformation. Fact-checking sites such as the AFP and Snopes have identified many more.
So here’s my open question, which I pose to every registry, registrar and reseller reading this:
If you are told about a domain name under your management that is publishing dangerous misinformation, will you take it down?
I’d like to think I know the answer to this question already, but I’m not sure I do.
Registries and registrars are notoriously reluctant to act on complaints about the contents of web sites. Many require a court order before taking action.
During peace time, worthy principles such as free speech, privacy, and legal due process all play a role in this kind of decision-making.
The latest version of the Framework to Address DNS Abuse lists four types of content that its dozens of domain-industry signatories “should” (as opposed to “must”) act on — child sex abuse material, illegal opioid sales, human trafficking, and credible incitements to violence.
The underlying principle leading to this list is “the physical and often irreversible threat to human life”.
I’m reminded of the ethical conundrum faced by EasyDNS and CEO Mark Jeftovic back in 2014, when the company changed its usage policies after a guy died due to fake pharma bought via a domain under its management.
“In one case we have people allegedly pirating Honey Boo Boo reruns and on the other we have people dying. We don’t know where exactly, but the line goes somewhere in between there,” Jeftovic wrote at the time.
I don’t wish to pick on EasyDNS or Jeftovic — changing one’s mind in the face of new evidence is an admirable trait — but I think his quote poses the question quite well.
There’s a line where free speech ends and incitement to virological violence begins.
Figuring out where that line is is something the domain name industry is going to have to get to grips with, fast.