Making Progress on DNS Abuse

Last week, a few of the largest domain name registries and registrars collaborated to issue a Framework to Address DNS Abuse that described several forms of DNS abuse with the hope of facilitating further conversations about their role in addressing this abuse. Above and beyond the ICANN-mandated “phishing, pharming, malware, and botnets,” this document reflects the praiseworthy efforts of registrars and registries to take voluntary measures to address malicious activities on the Internet, including child abuse material, illegal distribution of opioids, human trafficking, and specific and credible “incitements to violence.” The Framework closely mirrors work previously undertaken more than two years ago by some of the same RrSG and RySG members as part of the Domain Name Association’s “Healthy Domains Initiative” which established recommended practices for addressing malware, botnets, phishing, child abuse material, and illegal online pharmacies. MarkMonitor applauds and encourages these efforts as these two initiatives will continue to help ensure user trust in the Internet.

With complete agreement on the types of abuse already listed, MarkMonitor invites registries and registrars to extrapolate their rationale for addressing these abuses to other types of grave consumer harms. For example, since opioids are in the scope for causing risk to health and safety, fake auto parts or counterfeit medical devices are similarly addressable.

While some registries and registrars have long stated that neither can be responsible for “website content,” it is often content that does the most harm to Internet users and to society-at-large. Earlier this year, Kaspersky, a recognized global leader in cybersecurity, in an article cleverly titled “Game of Threats,” reported that pirated movies and television shows and other forms copyrighted media are a key source for the distribution of malicious code, malware, and phishing scams. Fortunately, registries and registrars may rely on the fact that copyright infringement is illegal worldwide with 177 nations electing to be a party to the Berne Convention. While there may be fringe cases of parody or fair use, one potential solution for dealing with this problem, as suggested by the Framework, is the reliance upon third parties or “trusted notifiers” to investigate website content, validate that unambiguous and pervasive abuse has occurred, and action can, and should, be taken. Trusted notifiers have been used to help identify and take down illegal online pharmacies, child pornography, and pirated movies. By developing trusted notifiers for other forms of abuse, registries and registrars may be more comfortable with taking action against illegal content.

Websites that violate intellectual property rights do so for more nefarious reasons than simply trying to make profit off of popular commercial brands. For example, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, proceeds from the sale of counterfeit goods online are used to fund organized crime, terrorist groups, sex trafficking, and illegal drug production. Earlier this year in a blog post, I reported that MarkMonitor had partnered with Michigan State University’s Center for Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection (A-CAPP) to commence a research study into the overlap of counterfeiting with other serious crimes. As I stated in that post, “no longer can online marketplaces turn a blind eye and claim ‘We are not to blame, we are just a platform.’ With each new counterfeit scheme criminals are funding activities that go far beyond merely inconveniencing a consumer – they threaten the safety and security of our society.” To be clear, we are not suggesting that ICANN, registries, or registrars become Internet content police. Rather, we are encouraging those with the power to take appropriate action to do so in response to well documented abuses.

“The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
– Albert Einstein

In the ICANN meeting in Montreal next month, DNS Abuse will be a hot topic with even the Government Advisory Committee (GAC) pushing for a cross-community discussion on the issue. We encourage all ICANN stakeholders to embrace the solid foundation that responsible and proactive registries and registrars have created and join us in seeking ways to build upon this foundation to maintain the security, stability, trust and safety of the Internet.

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