ICANN: data breaches not due to new top-level domains

An ICANN spokesman dismissed accusations that the recent growth in the number of generic top-level domains has caused data breaches, on Thursday.

There are now more than 700 top-level domains such as .meme, .guru and .blog. The number of TLDs has exploded only recently -- between 1985 and 2012, the number of TLDs grew slowly, from five to 22. And ICAAN -- the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers -- plans to allow more such domains in the future.

According to critics, the recent growth has been a windfall for cyber criminals, a charge that the ICANN has disputed.

"To date, ICANN has not seen any indication or evidence that new gTLDs have played a role in any data breaches anywhere, but we would be happy to review any evidence indicating so," said John Crain, ICANN's Chief Security, Stability and Resiliency Officer.

"ICANN has always prioritized the security, stability and resiliency of the Domain Name System," he said. "The new gTLD program was accompanied by a wide range of new and innovative safeguards, such a comprehensive plan to mitigate the effects of any potential name collisions."

But according to Amy Mushahwar, counsel and Chief Information Security Officer at Washington, D.C. law firm ZwillGen PLLC, the organization hasn't done enough and should stop issuing new top-level domain names until it thoroughly reviews its security policies.

"New domains are being registered as phishing sites and for drive-by downloads of malware," she said. "Nefarious uses have been very widespread. It's incumbent upon ICANN to clean up the house for the domains that it currently has before it floods the market with new domains."

According to Mushahwar, the organizations concerned about the flood of new domains include the Association of National Advertisers, which was a backer of the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight. The Coalition tried -- and failed -- to stop the new domain names two years ago, and Mushahwar was part of that effort.

"The parade of horrors that we had envisioned are now starting to come to fruition," she said. "Instead of allowing ICANN to continue to allow these registrations through, it is time for us to be reflective, especially given the security concerns we are having currently."

The Home Depot breach was one example of recent security problems, she said -- though she admitted that this breach was not related to the new top-level domain names.

Today, Mushahwar represents corporate clients, including a number of large Internet and financial services brands, who, she says, "are interested in ensuring that domains are a safe place for consumers."

Companies have already learned to register common misspellings and variations of their corporate names to keep cybercriminals from using those domains maliciously. Now they will have to do the same for all the new top-level domains, she said.

"The current methods that we have to combat phishing in these existing domains -- before even the new ones have taken off -- aren't working," she said.

"ICANN can slow down its registration policy, examine what's happening in the current domains, and start to collect meaningful statistics to determine if it needs to change its registration policy," she said.

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