Vulnerabilities / Threats
2/5/2009
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The Top 10 Internet Registrars Hosting Spammers, Illicit Sites

New Knujon report identifies registrars hosting 83 percent of spamming and badware Websites worldwide

Antispam organization KnujOn today released a new list of the top 10 Internet registrars hosting spam, abuse, and other nonlegitimate activity, and the No. 1 registrar has ties to the Waledac botnet that researchers say is the new and improved Storm.

The registrars, in order of ranking, are XIN NET, eNom, Network Solutions, Register.com, PLANETONLINE, RegTime, OnlineNIC, SpotDomains (domainsite), Wild West, and HICHINA Web Solutions. XIN NET and eNom were the only holdovers from last year's list, with XIN NET having the dubious distinction of holding the No. 1 position two years in a row. The list was compiled using data gathered from June 2008 through January 2009.

But just because a registrar made the list doesn't automatically mean it's criminal, notes Garth Bruen, creator of KnujOn and author of the report. It may be unaware of its customers' cybercrime activity -- or just doesn't have the resources to quell it. "If you really look at their operation, there's [typically] a lack of controls and a lack of proper policy. A lot of these organizations keep [a small] staff...it's easy for people from the outside to manipulate [their system]", he says.

And spam, botnet, or other cybercrime organizations typically rely on multiple service providers to mask their operations to evade detection. Another problem that makes it difficult to root out the bad seeds: resellers of domain hosting services, Bruen notes. "A reseller is even more secretive than registrars are," he says. "This is a completely unregulated and unknown segment of this industry. Reselling is a way for registrars to make lots of money without staff and resources...and they are taking advantage of it."

KnujOn ranked the 10 worst registrars using four criteria: the number of domains the register holds that advertise spam; the number of spam messages used to advertise the domains; the percentage of the registrar's business these domains represent; and the rate of spam messages per domain.

ENom, for example, has the most spammed domains (around 32,000), but XIN NET sent some 3.5 million spam messages, with eNom in second with around 1.3 million.

This year's list harbors more hard-core cybercrime trafficking of illicit products, Bruen says.

XIN NET hosts some fast-flux (think botnet) traffic and appears to be associated with Waledac, a.k.a. Storm, the once-massive botnet that all but disappeared off the grid for a while last year, as well as other malware infections. "If you follow the trails [of malware], it just goes right to [XIN NET]," Bruen says.

Going after domain registrars has proved to be effective -- the takedowns of McColo and Atriva, for example, at least temporarily slowed botnet activity and spam traffic. These registrars also have one glaring characteristic in common, Bruen points out: "They relied on U.S. networks to run their operation. A lot is being orchestrated overseas, but they couldn't exist without the U.S. [Internet] infrastructure," he says. "So if we just clean up the U.S. network, we might be able to solve a huge chunk of the problem."

If those spammers or cybercriminals were to then go overseas to regroup, which would be likely, their traffic ultimately could be blocked at the IP level, he says. "A lot of security companies have talked about that -- not accepting traffic from a region" that's a major source of this illicit traffic, Bruen says.

Meanwhile, KnujOn found that some of the top 10 registrars have a higher concentration of spam traffic in their overall portfolio than others. Planet OnLine is at 40 percent, and while eNom has the most spammed domains, only 0.36 percent of its traffic is spam-related, for instance, according to KnujOn.

XIN NET averages 345 spam messages per domain, while Register.com is at 59 messages per spammed domain, followed by Network Solutions and RegTime, each with 50.

A Network Solutions spokesperson says the company does not condone spam, has contacted KnujOn, and is reviewing the data used to compile the list. "It's important to note that where the DNS resides with us, we have controls to prevent abuse or spamming. However, in instances when a domain is registered with us and hosted elsewhere, we have worked with the ISP/hosting provider who have investigated and shut down the offender," the spokesperson said. "We continually review and improve our systems; however, no matter how good our systems are, we are still reliant on the speed at which stolen information is reported. Unfortunately, there will continue to be a window of time at which spammers will operate. Our goal is to significantly shorten that period of time."

KnujOn has contacted each of the top 10 domain registrars and provided a list of recommendations for fixing their problems, as well as names of specific customers and spammy or illicit domains.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message Kelly Jackson Higgins is Senior Editor at DarkReading.com. 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 Magazine, ... View Full Bio

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