Posts Tagged: WHOIS

Mar 18

Who Is Afraid of More Spams and Scams?

Security researchers who rely on data included in Web site domain name records to combat spammers and scammers will likely lose access to that information for at least six months starting at the end of May 2018, under a new proposal that seeks to bring the system in line with new European privacy laws. The result, some experts warn, will likely mean more spams and scams landing in your inbox.

On May 25, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) takes effect. The law, enacted by the European Parliament, requires companies to get affirmative consent for any personal information they collect on people within the European Union. Organizations that violate the GDPR could face fines of up to four percent of global annual revenues.

In response, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) — the nonprofit entity that manages the global domain name system — has proposed redacting key bits of personal data from WHOIS, the system for querying databases that store the registered users of domain names and blocks of Internet address ranges (IP addresses).

Under current ICANN rules, domain name registrars should collect and display a variety of data points when someone performs a WHOIS lookup on a given domain, such as the registrant’s name, address, email address and phone number. Most registrars offer a privacy protection service that shields this information from public WHOIS lookups; some registrars charge a nominal fee for this service, while others offer it for free.

But in a bid to help registrars comply with the GDPR, ICANN is moving forward on a plan to remove critical data elements from all public WHOIS records. Under the new system, registrars would collect all the same data points about their customers, yet limit how much of that information is made available via public WHOIS lookups.

The data to be redacted includes the name of the person who registered the domain, as well as their phone number, physical address and email address. The new rules would apply to all domain name registrars globally.

ICANN has proposed creating an “accreditation system” that would vet access to personal data in WHOIS records for several groups, including journalists, security researchers, and law enforcement officials, as well as intellectual property rights holders who routinely use WHOIS records to combat piracy and trademark abuse.

But at an ICANN meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Thursday, ICANN representatives conceded that a proposal for how such a vetting system might work probably would not be ready until December 2018. Assuming ICANN meets that deadline, it could be many months after that before the hundreds of domain registrars around the world take steps to adopt the new measures.

Gregory Mounier, head of outreach at EUROPOL‘s European Cybercrime Center and member of ICANN’s Public Safety Working Group, said the new WHOIS plan could leave security researchers in the lurch — at least in the short run.

“If you don’t have an accreditation system by 25 May then there’s no means for cybersecurity folks to get access to this information,” Mounier told KrebsOnSecurity. “Let’s say you’re monitoring a botnet and have 10.000 domains connected to that and you want to find information about them in the WHOIS records, you won’t be able to do that anymore. It probably won’t be implemented before December 2018 or January 2019, and that may mean security gaps for many months.”

Rod Rasmussen, chair of ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee, said ICANN does not have a history of getting things done before or on set deadlines, meaning it may be well more than six months before researchers and others can get vetted to access personal information in WHOIS data.

Asked for his take on the chances that ICANN and the registrar community might still be designing the vetting system this time next year, Rasmussen said “100 percent.”

“A lot of people who are using this data won’t be able to get access to it, and it’s not going to be pretty,” Rasmussen said. “Once things start going dark it will have a cascading effect. Email deliverability is going to be one issue, and the amount of spam that shows up in peoples’ inboxes will be climbing rapidly because a lot of anti-spam technologies rely on WHOIS for their algorithms.”

As I noted in last month’s story on this topic, WHOIS is probably the single most useful tool we have right now for tracking down cybercrooks and/or for disrupting their operations. On any given day I probably perform 20-30 different WHOIS queries; on days I’ve set aside for deep-dive research, I may run hundreds of WHOIS searches. Continue reading →

Sep 13

WHOIS Privacy Plan Draws Fire

Internet regulators are pushing a controversial plan to restrict public access to WHOIS Web site registration records. Proponents of the proposal say it would improve the accuracy of WHOIS data and better protect the privacy of people who register domain names. Critics argue that such a shift would be unworkable and make it more difficult to combat phishers, spammers and scammers.

ardsA working group within The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization that oversees the Internet’s domain name system, has proposed scrapping the current WHOIS system — which is inconsistently managed by hundreds of domain registrars and allows anyone to query Web site registration records. To replace the current system, the group proposes creating a more centralized WHOIS lookup system that is closed by default.

According to an interim report (PDF) by the ICANN working group, the WHOIS data would be accessible only to “authenticated requestors that are held accountable for appropriate use” of the information.

“After working through a broad array of use cases, and the myriad of issues they raised, [ICANN’s working group] concluded that today’s WHOIS model—giving every user the same anonymous public access to (too often inaccurate) registration data—should be abandoned,” ICANN’s “expert working group” wrote. The group said it “recognizes the need for accuracy, along with the need to protect the privacy of those registrants who may require heightened protections of their personal information.”

The working group’s current plan envisions creating what it calls an “aggregated registration directory service” (ARDS) to serve as a clearinghouse that contains a non-authoritative copy of all of the collected data elements. The registrars and registries that operate the hundreds of different generic top-level domains (gTLDs, like dot-biz, dot-name, e.g.) would be responsible for maintaining the authoritative sources of WHOIS data for domains in their gTLDs. Those who wish to query WHOIS domain registration data from the system would have to apply for access credentials to the ARDS, which would be responsible for handling data accuracy complaints, auditing access to the system to minimize abuse, and managing the licensing arrangement for access to the WHOIS data.

The plan acknowledges that creating a “one-stop shop” for registration data also might well paint a giant target on the group for hackers, but it holds that such a system would nevertheless allow for greater accountability for validating registration data.

Unsurprisingly, the interim proposal has met with a swell of opposition from some security and technology experts who worry about the plan’s potential for harm to consumers and cybercrime investigators.

“Internet users (individuals, businesses, law enforcement, governments, journalists and others) should not be subject to barriers – including prior authorization, disclosure obligations, payment of fees, etc. – in order to gain access to information about who operates a website, with the exception of legitimate privacy protection services,” reads a letter (PDF) jointly submitted to ICANN last month by G2 Web Services, OpSec Security, LegitScript and DomainTools.

“Internet users have the right to know who is operating a website they are visiting (or, the fact that it is registered anonymously),” the letter continues. “Today, individuals review full WHOIS records and, based on any one of the fields, identify and report fraud and other abusive behaviors; journalists and academics use WHOIS data to conduct research and expose miscreant behavior; and parents use WHOIS data to better understand who they (or their children) are dealing with online. These and other uses improve the security and stability of the Internet and should be encouraged not burdened by barriers of a closed by default system.”

Continue reading →

Mar 11

WHOIS Problem Reporting System to Gain Privacy Option

A system that allows anti-spam activists to report entities that bulk-register domain names using false or misleading identity data is about to gain a much-needed new privacy feature: The option for activists not to expose their identities to the very spammers they’re trying to report.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization that oversees the Internet’s domain name system, runs a program called the WHOIS Data Problem Reporting System (WDPRS). It’s designed to allow Internet community members to alert registrars about customers that list incomplete or inaccurate contact records for domain registrations.

The policy of requiring registrars to make WHOIS data publicly searchable is no doubt a contentious one, but the reality is that spammers and scammers frequently bulk register large numbers of domains in one go, and tend to take their business to registrars that don’t ask too many questions. Indeed, some domain registrars have built a business out of catering to spammers and scammers.

In many cases, spammers will mass-register domains using completely bogus contact information, or — as appears to have been the case with hundreds of domains that were used recently in an attack against — with the contact information belonging to people whose stolen credit cards were used to fraudulently register the spammy domains.

Some anti-spam activists have pursued bulk registrants with false WHOIS data because, under ICANN’s rules, registrars are supposed to investigate and eventually suspend domains whose owners fail to respond to requests to verify or correct false WHOIS data. And in direct response to a massive influx of reporting on these domains by such activists, ICANN built the WPDRS.

But at some point, ICANN began sharing the names and email addresses of people who were reporting the erroneous WHOIS information with the registrars for each offending domain, exposing the identities of any anti-spam activists who used their real contact information in reporting the issues to ICANN.

Continue reading →

Oct 10

Pill Gangs Besmirch LegitScript Founder

Individuals who normally promote unlicensed, fly-by-night Internet pharmacies recently registered hundreds of hardcore porn and bestiality Web sites using contact information for the founder of a company that has helped to shutter more than 10,000 of these Internet pill mills over the past year, has learned.

The reputation attack is the latest sortie in an increasingly high-profile and high-stakes battle among spammers, online pill purveyors and those trying to shed light on their activities. Around the same time that these fake domains were registered, came under a sustained denial of service attack that traced back to Russian pill gangs.

In the third week of September, hundreds of domains were registered using the name, phone number and former business address of John Horton, founder of LegitScript, an Internet pharmacy verification service. The domains, many containing the word “adult,” all redirect to a handful of porn and bestiality sites (a partial list is available here, but please tread lightly with these sites because they are definitely not safe for work and may not be safe for your PC).

The sites were registered just days after LegitScript finalized a deal with eNom Inc., the world’s 5th-largest domain name registrar. At the time of that agreement, roughly 40 percent of the unlicensed online pharmacies selling drugs without requiring a prescription were registered through eNom, according to Horton.

Since then, many affiliates who promote pill sites via online pharmacy affiliate programs have been scrambling to move their domains to other registrars, with varying degrees of success.

Continue reading →