Whois studies: it's time to ask the right questions
Network hijacking: everything old is new again

APWG and M3AAWG Survey Finds ICANN WHOIS Changes Impede Cyber Investigations

The Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) and the Messaging, Malware and Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group (M3AAWG) have collaborated to conduct a survey of cyber investigators and anti-abuse service providers to understand how ICANN’s Temporary Specification for gTLD Registration Data has affected their access and usage of domain name registration information and their ability to mitigate abuse. I served as Principal Investigator for APWG and M3AAWG for this project. I received strong subject matter expertise support from both working groups.
From our analysis of 327 survey responses we find that the changes to WHOIS access following ICANN’s implementation of the Temp Spec is significantly impeding cyber applications and forensic investigations and allowing more harm to victims.
The "Temp Spec" has introduced delays to investigations and the reduced utility of public WHOIS data is a dire problem. The loss of timely and repeatable access to complete WHOIS data is impeding investigations of all kinds, from cybercrime activities such as phishing and ransomware, to the distribution of fake news and subversive political influence campaigns.
The report contains a detailed analysis of the sets of questions asked to an targeted audience of cyber security practitioners, anti-abuse service providers and law enforcement officers, who were contacted by primary using APWG and M3AAWG mailing lists, augmented with trust collaboration mailing lists used by operational security and law enforcement to share threat intelligence data. The analyses are complemented with comments submitted by survey respondents. Many of these are quite insightful.
From the analyses, the APWG and M3AAWG make the following findings:
  1. Cyber-investigations and mitigations are impeded because investigators are unable to access complete domain name registration data.
  2. The mitigation or triage of cyber incidents cannot be accomplished in a timely manner.
  3. WHOIS has become an unreliable or less meaningful source of threat intelligence.
  4. Requests to access non-public WHOIS by legitimate investigators for legitimate. purposes are routinely refused.
  5. Those who protect Internet resources are also making more coarse blocking or mitigation decisions in the absence of what was formerly reliable data. 
  6. The utility of WHOIS has been severely damaged.
  7. The redaction of WHOIS data is excessive.

APWG and M3AAWG make a number of recommendations as well:

  1. There must be an accredited access mechanism, providing tiered or gated access to qualified security actors.
  2. ICANN should not allow redaction of the contact data of legal entities.
  3. ICANN should adopt a contact data access request specification that will ensure consistency across all accredited registrars and gTLD registries.
  4. ICANN should ensure that the accredited access to redacted WHOIS data does not introduce delays in collecting or processing WHOIS data, and further, that the access not be encumbered by per request authorizations.
  5. ICANN should reconsider the current redaction policy.
  6. We ask that ICANN publish point of contact email addresses to provide investigators with an effective means of identifying domains associated with a victim or person of interest in an investigation.

In their final comments, the Working Groups encourage ICANN to improve the current, difficult condition, stating:

"We recognize that ICANN is likely aware of several of these issues. We also realize that ICANN organization and Board of Directors are awaiting the Expedited Policy Development Process for answers to many issues; however, we believe that the ICANN Board of Directors and ICANN organization have the ability to update the Temp Spec to fix the problems that this survey and others have identified as most pressing or egregious while the EPDP work continues."

It's essential that ICANN  implement recommendations 2, 4, and 6 and quickly. From a public safety perspective, these are necessary adjustments. These fall within ICANN's remit to ensure security and stability of the Internet's Identifier systems. ICANN organization should further ensure that the parties involved in consensus policy development for the remaining recommendations consider the findings and analyses in this survey. This would be consistent with the organization's expressed desire to apply data to ensure informed policy deliberation. 


Download FINAL ICANN GDPR and WHOIS Users Survey 20181018.pdf (1683.6K)


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