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ICANN battled dot-word TLD registration leak bug for WEEKS

Reopening of wonky application site stalled

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Red-faced ICANN has delayed its new generic top-level domains programme again as it struggles to deal with the fallout of a security bug that exposed confidential data about applicants.

The internet overseer also confirmed it was first warned of a data leak vulnerability in mid-March, weeks before it eventually pulled the plug on the new TLD registration website.

The organisation's TLD Application System, which companies use to file applications, has been offline since last Thursday – shut down just 12 hours before the end of a three-month filing period – and an anticipated reopening today has been cancelled.

It now seems likely that it will be well into next week before ICANN finally closes its new gTLD application window, which has seen bids filed for new domain suffixes such as .london, .blog, .shop and very possibly .google and .youtube.

"We believe that we have fixed the glitch, and we are testing it to make sure," ICANN chief operating officer Akram Atallah said in a statement in the early hours of this morning.

"We also want to inform all applicants, before we reopen, whether they have been affected by the glitch," he said. "We are still gathering information so we can do that."

The "glitch" was actually a vulnerability that allowed some applicants to see files that had been uploaded to TAS by other applicants. While the documents could not be opened, in many cases the filename would be enough to reveal the gTLD being applied for by a third party.

This is seen as highly confidential and sensitive information. The vast majority of new gTLD applicants are playing their cards close to their chests while the application window is still open as they fear competition that could force them into a potentially expensive auction.

Merely opening a TAS account costs $5,000; filing a dot-word TLD application costs an additional $180,000.

Some applicants have told El Reg that they uploaded files to TAS with names containing their desired gTLDs, and one, speaking on condition of anonymity, has confirmed that he saw the vulnerability and reported it to ICANN six days before TAS was shut down.

“I could infer the applicant and string based on the name of the file,” he told us.

Over the weekend, ICANN confirmed in a statement that it had uncovered reports about the bug from TAS users as early as 19 March. In each case, the organisation thought it was an isolated bug that it then fixed, which was clearly not the case.

The organisation had planned to reopen TAS today and close it on Friday, but it now seems that the system will be down for the rest of the week. ICANN said today it plans to provide an update no later than Friday about the new filing deadlines.

ICANN is still targeting 30 April for revealing the names of all 1,000-plus new gTLD applications, but that also seems increasingly unlikely. ®

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