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SAC 040 | Measures to Protect Domain Registration Services Against Exploitation or Misuse

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Attacks against domain name registration accounts and malicious reconfiguration of Domain Name System (DNS) records are damaging security events. Activities resulting from unauthorized modification of contact information associated with a domain name registration, including malicious alteration of DNS configuration information for the purpose of using the DNS to direct traffic to a destination other than the intended host, even temporarily, can severely disrupt business operations and can cause financial and reputational harm. Incidents occurring over the past year demonstrate that the DNS and domain registration account access continue to be an attractive target of attackers.

In this report, we call attention to certain high profile incidents involving attacks against domain name registration. The report examines the incidents in sufficient detail to identify how accounts were compromised, the actions attackers performed once they had gained control of the account, and the consequences. The report identifies practices registrars can share with customers so registrar and customer can jointly protect domain registrations against exploitation or misuse, and discusses methods of raising security awareness among registrants of the risks relating to even a temporary loss of control over domain names and associated DNS configurations. This report seeks to encourage additional registrars and resellers to consider whether opportunities exist to provide stronger levels of protection from attacks against domain registration accounts. In particular, the report seeks to encourage registrars to consider emphasize registration security measures as a way to differentiate their service in a highly competitive market.

Based on our analyses of recent incidents, the related study, and our Findings, SSAC makes the following recommendations:

Recommendation (1) Registrars are encouraged to offer stronger levels of protection against domain name registration service exploitation or misuse for customers who want or need them. Measures enumerated in this report can be offered as optional services to customers, individually or bundled.

Recommendation (2) Registrars should expand existing FAQs and education programs to include security awareness. Registrars should make information concerning the measures they take to protect domain registration accounts more accessible to customers so that they can make informed decisions regarding protective measures when they choose a registrar.

Recommendation (3) Registrars should consider the value of voluntarily having an independent security audit performed on their operations as a component of their security due diligence.

Recommendation (4) ICANN and registrars should study whether registration services would generally improve and registrants would benefit from having an approved independent third party that will, at the request of a registrar, perform a security audit based on a prescribed set of security measures. ICANN would distinguish registrars that voluntarily satisfy the benchmarks of this security audit through a trusted security mark program that is implemented in a manner similar to the way that SSL certificate issuing authorities provide trust marks or seals for web site operators who satisfy that authority’s security criteria.

Domain Name System
Internationalized Domain Name ,IDN,"IDNs are domain names that include characters used in the local representation of languages that are not written with the twenty-six letters of the basic Latin alphabet ""a-z"". An IDN can contain Latin letters with diacritical marks, as required by many European languages, or may consist of characters from non-Latin scripts such as Arabic or Chinese. Many languages also use other types of digits than the European ""0-9"". The basic Latin alphabet together with the European-Arabic digits are, for the purpose of domain names, termed ""ASCII characters"" (ASCII = American Standard Code for Information Interchange). These are also included in the broader range of ""Unicode characters"" that provides the basis for IDNs. The ""hostname rule"" requires that all domain names of the type under consideration here are stored in the DNS using only the ASCII characters listed above, with the one further addition of the hyphen ""-"". The Unicode form of an IDN therefore requires special encoding before it is entered into the DNS. The following terminology is used when distinguishing between these forms: A domain name consists of a series of ""labels"" (separated by ""dots""). The ASCII form of an IDN label is termed an ""A-label"". All operations defined in the DNS protocol use A-labels exclusively. The Unicode form, which a user expects to be displayed, is termed a ""U-label"". The difference may be illustrated with the Hindi word for ""test"" — परीका — appearing here as a U-label would (in the Devanagari script). A special form of ""ASCII compatible encoding"" (abbreviated ACE) is applied to this to produce the corresponding A-label: xn--11b5bs1di. A domain name that only includes ASCII letters, digits, and hyphens is termed an ""LDH label"". Although the definitions of A-labels and LDH-labels overlap, a name consisting exclusively of LDH labels, such as"""" is not an IDN."