13/10/11

VeriSign Demands The Power To Take Down Websites/Domains

I was scanning the news today, and nothing much was going on. There were some half-arsed stories about Anonymous and LulzSec – but nothing really worth writing about. And then, and then I spotted this, which quite frankly scares the shit out of me.

As much as it may well have a use in law enforcement, I’m sorry but I don’t want any single organization, corporation or entity to have the power to take out domains.

It’s just plain wrong, and well the UK has already started tabling something like this back in September.

VeriSign, which manages the database of all .com internet addresses, wants powers to shut down “non-legitimate” domain names when asked to by law enforcement.

The company said today it wants to be able to enforce the “denial, cancellation or transfer of any registration” in any of a laundry list of scenarios where a domain is deemed to be “abusive”. VeriSign should be able to shut down a .com or .net domain, and therefore its associated website and email, “to comply with any applicable court orders, laws, government rules or requirements, requests of law enforcement or other governmental or quasi-governmental agency, or any dispute resolution process”, according to a document it filed today with domain name industry overseer ICANN.

The company has already helped law enforcement agencies in the US, such as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, seize domains that were allegedly being used to sell counterfeit goods or facilitate online piracy, when the agency first obtained a court order.

That seizure process has come under fire because, in at least one fringe case, a seized .com domain’s website had already been ruled legal by a court in its native Spain.

Senior ICE agents are on record saying that they believe all .com addresses fall under US jurisdiction.

But the new powers would be international and, according to VeriSign’s filing, could enable it to shut down a domain also when it receives “requests from law enforcement”, without a court order.

Yes VeriSign do manage all the .com and .net domains, but they aren’t technically ruled under the US jurisdiction – there are plenty of .com domains that are hosted outside of the US, including the DNS infrastructure.

What I’m especially interested in, is how they plan to handle the fact that lots of things are illegal in some countries and perfectly legal in others. The part that scares me is they will be able to take down a domain without a court order, just on ‘request’ from a law enforcement agency.

To me, that opens it up to abuse – if you are going to do something like this, at least institute a due process to manage it properly.


“Various law enforcement personnel, around the globe, have asked us to mitigate domain name abuse, and have validated our approach to rapid suspension of malicious domain names,” VeriSign told ICANN, describing its system as “an integrated response to criminal activities that utilize Verisign-managed [top-level domains] and DNS infrastructure”.

The company said it has already cooperated with US law enforcement, including the FBI, to craft the suspension policies, and that it intends to also work with police in Europe and elsewhere.

It’s not yet clear how VeriSign would handle a request to suspend a .com domain that was hosting content legal in the US and Europe but illegal in, for example, Saudi Arabia or Uganda.

VeriSign made the request in a Registry Services Evaluation Process (RSEP) document filed today with ICANN. The RSEP is currently the primary mechanism that registries employ when they want to make significant changes to their contracts with ICANN.

The request also separately asks for permission to launch a “malware scanning service”, not dissimilar to the one recently introduced by ICM Registry, manager of the new .xxx extension.

That service would enable VeriSign to scan all .com websites once per quarter for malware and then provide a free “informational only” security report to the registrar responsible for the domain, which would then be able to take re-mediation action. It would be a voluntary service.

Scary thoughts really. However the malware scanning service sounds like something that would help the Internet clean up all the nasty stuff, but then again – do the registrars really care, and would they respond?

Either way, I don’t like the fact that these draconian control laws may be placed on the Internet as we know – that basically allow US law enforcement agencies to take down domains as they please.

What I’m guessing, if this is implemented, it may well become a major target for Social Engineering efforts. What’s more effective than a traditional DDoS attack? Having the domain completely killed by VeriSign – that’s what.

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