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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.

Domain firms plan “Trusted Notifier” takedown rules

Kevin Murphy, June 23, 2021, Domain Policy

Domain name registries and registrars are working on a joint framework that could speed up the process of taking down domain names being used for behavior such as movie piracy.

Discussed last week at the ICANN 71 public meeting, the Framework on Trusted Notifiers is a joint effort of the Registrar Stakeholder Group and Registries Stakeholder Group — together the Contracted Parties House — and is in the early stages of discussion.

Trusted Notifiers are third parties who often need domain names taken down due to activity such as copyright infringement or the sale of counterfeit pharmaceuticals, and are considered trustworthy enough not to overreach and spam the CPH with spurious, cumbersome, overly vague complaints.

It’s not a new concept. Registries in the gTLD space, such as Donuts and Radix, have had relationships with the Motion Picture Association for over five years.

ccTLD operator Nominet has a similar relationship with UK regulators, acting on behalf of Big Copyright and Big Pharma, taking down thousands of .uk domains every year.

The joint RrSG-RySG effort doesn’t appear to have any published draft framework yet, and the discussions appear to be being held privately, but members said last week that it is expected to describe a set of “common expectations or common understandings”, establishing what a Trusted Notifier is and what kind of cooperation they can expect from domain firms.

It’s one of several things the industry is working on to address complaints about so-called “DNS Abuse”, which could lead to government regulations or further delays to the new gTLD program.

It obviously veers into content policing, which ICANN has disavowed. But it’s not an ICANN policy effort. Whatever framework emerges, it’s expected to be non-contractual and voluntary.

Trusted Notifier relationships would be bilateral, between registry and notifier, with no ICANN oversight.

Such deals are not without controversy, however. Notably, free speech advocates at the Electronic Frontier Foundation have been complaining about Trusted Notifier for years, calling it “content policing by the back door” and most recently using it as an argument against Ethos Capital’s acquisition of Donuts.

Donuts took down 11 domains for Hollywood last year

Kevin Murphy, February 28, 2017, Domain Policy

Donuts caused 11 domain names in its new gTLD portfolio to be taken down in the first 12 months of its deal with the US movie industry.
The company disclosed yesterday that the Motion Picture Association of America requested the suspension of 12 domains under their bilateral “Trusted Notifier” agreement, which came into effect last February.
The news follows the decisions by Public Interest Registry and the Domain Name Association not to pursue a “Copyright ADRP” process that would have made such Trusted Notifier systems unnecessary.
Of the 12 alleged piracy domains, seven were suspended by the sponsoring registrar, one was addressed by the hosting provider, and Donuts terminated three at the registry level.
For the remaining domain, “questions arose about the nexus between the site’s operators and the content that warranted further investigation”, Donuts said.
“In the end, after consultation with the registrar and the registrant, we elected against further action,” it said.
Trusted Notifier is supposed to address only clear-cut cases of copyright infringement, where domains are being using solely to commit mass piracy. Donuts said:

Of the eleven on which action was taken, each represented a clear violation of law—the key tenet of a referral. In some cases, sites simply were mirrors of other sites that were subject to US legal action. All were clearly and solely dedicated to pervasive illegal streaming of television and movie content. In a reflection of the further damage these types of sites can impart on Internet users, malware was detected on one of the sites.

Donuts also dismissed claims that Trusted Notifier mechanisms represent a slippery slope that will ultimately grant censorship powers to Big Content.
The company said “a mere handful of names have been impacted, and only those that clearly were devoted to illegal activity. And to Donuts’ knowledge, in no case did the registrant contest the suspension or seek reinstatement of the domain.”
It is of course impossible to verify these statements, because Donuts does not publish the names of the domains affected by the program.
Trusted Notifier, which is also in place at competing portfolio registry Radix, was this week criticized in an academic paper from professor Annemarie Bridy of the University of Idaho College of Law and Stanford University.
The paper, “Notice and Takedown in the Domain Name System: ICANN’s Ambivalent Drift into Online Content Regulation”, she argues that while Trusted Notifier may not by an ICANN policy, the organization has nevertheless “abetted the development and implementation of a potentially large-scale program of privately ordered online content regulation”.