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Vixie Proposes 'Cooling-Off Period' For New Domains To Deter Cybercrime

Short trial period would help detect malicious use of domain names, Internet expert says.

There's no legitimate reason for a new Internet domain name to be registered and go live in less than a minute, Internet pioneer Paul Vixie. "My challenge:  Come up with a non-criminal reason you might need that" speed of setting up a new domain name, he says.

Vixie, who talked domain name abuse in a presentation at last month's RSA Conference in San Francisco, says the new generation of inexpensive and quick-to-deploy new domain names are good news for bad guys and bad news for good guys. In an interview with Dark Reading, Vixie detailed his own proposal of a "cooling-off period" for DNS providers to activate new domains, a strategy he says would help minimize domain abuse.  

Domain names go as cheap as $10 apiece now, he notes, and are created in less than 30 seconds. "I cannot find a non-malicious [reason] why would want a large number of cheap domain names [activated] in less than 30 seconds," he says. "We've seen how it benefits criminals" in their online activity, he says.

Placing new domain names in a temporary "penalty box" for a few minutes or hours could deter malicious activity, says Vixie, who is CEO of DNS threat intelligence firm Farsight Security. "If they still exist then and are not taken down … and are not in a reputation system [blacklist], that means there's probably nothing wrong with them."

Vixie says ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) could impose this waiting period on accredited registrars and licensed registries, although it wouldn't be able to do so for national country-code top-level domains (CCTLDs) not licensed by ICANN.  Global top-level domains could use this, which then could be adopted by some national CCTLDs that wanted to also take this approach.

The reserved and temporarily held names would be public, as well as their WHOIS information, as soon as they were reserved--just not active. So any complaints about them could be filed with the registrar about known spammers signing up for those domains, for example, he says. "This would give registrars the option of refunding the money and cancelling the reservation on the name" if it's a known bad actor group behind it, he says.

The current system of reputation systems like Spamhaus and others building blacklists of malicious domains is good, but alone cannot keep up with the lightening-speed domain registration process today, he says. "A block list is not enough. You can also buy URL filtering as a service, and have your browser reject domains that are bad," he says.

Blacklists are basically racing the bad guys as they register new domains. In a cooling-off period approach, you could detect a domain name when it's first registered. "10 minutes works for me at my house," Vixie says of the domain-hold approach he uses on his home networks.

"It's a very simple technique, and it's hard for criminals to adapt to," he says. "Rapid takedown forces spammers to only use a domain name for a short period of time, which means they give up after 5 minutes. So I'm holding its head under water for 10 minutes."

Vixie's firm Farsight has a global network of sensors monitoring the DNS infrastructure. "I'm now able to estimate one-third and two-third of the names in use on the Net," and any newly used names, he says. The firm offers licenses for access to that data, he says.


Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Strategist
5/7/2015 | 9:44:13 PM
Re: First Check

what procedure do they plan to take to determine whether the requester is malicious or not? 

i have a few ideas in this regard, but the specifics are open to endless innovation by the security industry. the point is not to mandate that review be done, but rather to make review possible before the domain goes live.

imagine starting every footrace (you're a good guy, racing various bad guys) where you don't hear the starting gun until the bad guy is already halfway down the field. good luck stopping him before he makes his money.

there is a vibrant internet security industry, who are well able to feed a stream of "domain creation" and "domain modification" events into their own proprietary machinery for detecting and predicting badless based on patterns. if they get it wrong they will lose customers. if they get it right they will gain customers. that's the kind of innovation i'd like to support!

User Rank: Strategist
5/7/2015 | 9:39:54 PM
Re: domain value

What stops the bad guys from waiting 11 minutes?

nothing. but in that 11 minutes we can pre-blackhole them, as well as send complaints to their registrars, who in light of those complaints may decide that the community has crowdsourced their due diligence on a new client, and that it would be in their best interests to refund the domain fee and release the reservation. (or not -- that part is not something anyone can require, even though it may be good business practice in a higher-sunlight environment.)

let me turn that question around: what stops the good guys from waiting 11 minutes? that is, what is it about a short public comment period of around 15 minutes that would so stifle innovation that it would be a crimp on human productivity, creativity, and other freedoms?

User Rank: Strategist
5/7/2015 | 9:35:30 PM
Re: How to score an inactive domain?

Are you saying it would be up to triangulating it's registration data with previous bad actor domains?

yes. evil people have a very different metadata pattern than normal people. frankly, my proposal could be simpler. just a public record, in stream form, of all domain creation and modification events for all ICANN licensed TLD's, would give the internet security industry a better standing point than we have today.

Mark Jeftovic
Mark Jeftovic,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/7/2015 | 10:32:14 AM
How to score an inactive domain?
Hi Paul, I can see a 10 minute pause being reasonable, but if the domain isn't resolving, how would you know it's nefarious? Are you saying it would be up to triangulating it's registration data with previous bad actor domains?

User Rank: Apprentice
5/7/2015 | 9:40:46 AM
Re: domain value
What stops the bad guys from waiting 11 minutes? New names are getting cheaper. They are being offered as low as $0.50 cents a year. Bad guys could wait 364 days into the registration cycle and pay the renewal (a whopping single dollar for 2 years), are we going to have a 364 day waiting period? Maybe this guy's next epiphany will be setting minimum prices?  "Anything to battle the criminals", who are clearly a lot bolder in their thinking than Paul Vixie. 
User Rank: Ninja
5/7/2015 | 8:43:40 AM
First Check
I agree that instantaneous activation is not needed for legitamite purposes but what procedure do they plan to take to determine whether the requester is malicious or not? I would imagine that most malicious intenders tried to hide all signs of their true purpose. How are these people or organizations rooted out?
Christian Bryant
Christian Bryant,
User Rank: Ninja
5/6/2015 | 7:13:52 PM
Domain Names Are a Global Commodity
I'm not clear on how this is going to work in the global sense.  While not a bad idea, what dent can we put in the abuse of a global commodity like domain names?  If anything, this could skew how domain names are registered and managed in the future, causing both organizations that do registration and the customers seeking to remain under the radar or avoid risk of rejection to change their habits.  This means a new strategy for domain brokers, for small businesses who utilize large numbers of domain names in their business model, and of course the criminals who need a large volume of sites for their own activities.  What does this mean for security professionals?  Potentially a harder time adjusting to a mass change in the way forensics are done (or data analysis, more accurately) in terms of identifying, tracking and categorizing malicious actors by their domain procurement patterns.
Kelly Jackson Higgins
Kelly Jackson Higgins,
User Rank: Strategist
5/6/2015 | 5:14:23 PM
Re: domain value
Vixie noted that the $10 is nada for these guys--they make so much money that they don't mind dropping the $10 here and there.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Ninja
5/6/2015 | 5:08:36 PM
domain value
I wonder how much the average spam domain makes before being shut down. That figure is just shy of the optimal price for domains.
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