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When we were acquired by Tucows back in March, we knew that the Ascio business would benefit from their strong presence in the ICANN and Internet communities. Here’s an example of how. 

Abuse is a significant problem on the Internet today and, as a provider of Internet infrastructure services, we must constantly consider what role we should play in combatting this issue. All registrars have an obligation to actively investigate and respond to reports of abuse, but each has been alone in developing their approach–until now. 

Last month, several major registrars, including Tucows, and registries released a DNS Abuse Framework defining what types of abuse to the domain name system (DNS) we are the appropriate parties to take action on. It’s our hope that this commitment by DNS providers to address abuse on our platforms will help establish industry-wide standards that both protect free speech and ensure that the Internet remains free and open while keeping malicious online activity in check. 

What is DNS Abuse? On the surface that should be easy to answer: it’s abusive use of the domain name system. But as you get into the details, there are often more questions than answers. Who decides what is abusive? Who should respond when it happens? As a domain name registrar, Ascio’s obligations are spelled out in the Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA), but although we must “take reasonable and prompt steps to investigate and respond appropriately to any reports of abuse,” (RAA 3.18.1) the RAA doesn’t provide a specific definition either of abuse or of what steps are reasonable. 

For some registries, Specification 11 of their respective Registry Agreements provides more assistance, referring to specific types of behaviour as security threats: pharming, phishing, malware, and botnets. Until now, however, there has not been a consistent, common understanding of how to define abuse, meaning we haven’t been able to come to an agreement on who should respond when it happens. 

This new DNS Abuse Framework proposes a shared definition of DNS abuse, relying on the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network‘s definitions of the four behaviours listed in the Registry Agreement plus spam (but only when spam email is used as a delivery mechanism for another type of abuse, such as malware). This Framework also considers additional types of abuse that DNS providers should respond to–even if we are not required to do so under our respective contracts. Reaching a common agreement about what constitutes DNS abuse is a crucial component of any industry-wide efforts to mitigate that abuse.

We encourage our resellers to read through the Framework and become familiar with these types of abuse. To help, here’s a summary.

  • Malware is software that is installed on a device, such as a computer or smartphone, without the owner’s consent and for malicious purposes (that’s where the “mal” comes from). This includes things like viruses or spyware. 
  • Botnets are networks of malware-infected computers, controlled remotely.
  • Phishing is the term for a fraudulent or copycat email that tricks users into thinking it’s legitimate in order to obtain personal data or financial information such as credit card numbers.
  • Pharming is the use of DNS redirection to bring Internet users to a different website than the one they intended to visit, in order to obtain personal data or financial information or install malware.
  • Spam is unsolicited email; it is included in our definition of DNS abuse when it’s used as part of the delivery method for these other types of abuse, such as malware or phishing.

As one of the collaborators of and signatories to this Framework, the Tucows family of registrars is committed to taking action when our services are used for these malicious purposes. As a community of stakeholders all seeking to provide safe and reliable Internet services, we’ve come together to find the most effective and appropriate means to mitigate these significant concerns. Since rules vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and there is no single global standard, we hope that this Framework helps to provide one. Having a consistent, industry-wide approach will help make responding to abuse faster and more successful, and this Framework can help those who encounter abuse online to know where to best direct their concerns so they’ll be addressed promptly.