Abhilash Apoorva
Marketing Intern

Understanding and Preventing Domain Abuse

In our progressively interconnected global landscape, the domain name system (DNS) plays a pivotal role as the bedrock of the internet’s functionality. It furnishes users with easily comprehensible addresses, enabling access to websites, services, and information. Nonetheless, this indispensable system is susceptible to misuse. DNS abuse spans a spectrum of malevolent activities that erode the internet’s integrity, jeopardizing user safety and trust.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the depths of domain abuse, exploring its various forms, implications, and measures to combat this digital risk.

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1. What is DNS Abuse?

DNS abuse is the inappropriate use of the domain name system in general and of domain names in particular for unauthorized purposes, i.e. for illegal, fraudulent or malicious activities. Such misuse can result in substantial negative outcomes, including phishing attacks, the distribution of spam, the spread of malware, infringement of trademarks, and other detrimental consequences.

A specific instance of domain abuse, focusing on the unauthorized takeover of a domain name by an individual or entity without the permission of the original owner is called domain hijacking. In domain hijacking, attackers gain control over a domain name by exploiting vulnerabilities in the domain registration process, manipulating account credentials, or engaging in other unauthorized activities. This can lead to severe consequences, such as the unauthorized transfer of a domain to another registrar or the alteration of domain settings.

Here’s an example of a domain hijacking situation:
Suppose a company has registered a domain name for its business through a registrar, such as ExampleRegistrar. In this scenario, an attacker employing phishing techniques successfully gains access to the business’s control panel on ExampleRegistrar. Exploiting this access, the attacker could redirect the domain to a fraudulent site under their control without authorization. Beyond the potential financial harm to the company’s customers, such an attack has the potential to inflict irreparable damage to the company’s reputation.

2. Is DNS Abuse Common?

Yes, DNS abuse is relatively common, with an increase of attacks being recorded. Cybercriminals can use domain names for an illegal purpose or a purpose that is not consistent with the intended use of the domain name. At times the attacker can compromise the content management service the owner is using and insert malicious or infringing content, such as phishing pages or malware and the owner may be completely unaware that this activity is taking place under their domain. The prevalence of DNS abuse highlights the importance of robust cybersecurity measures and vigilance in managing domain and hosting assets to protect against potential threats. Organizations and individuals should stay informed about security best practices to mitigate the risks associated with DNS abuse.

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is currently implementing the Domain Abuse Activity Reporting (DAAR) project, designed to investigate and report on security threats and domain name registrations across various top-level domain (TLD) registries. The documented instances of abused domain names exhibited a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) decrease of 18.1% from 2020 to the present year-to-date (YTD).

Source: ICANN’s Domain Abuse Activity Reporting from 12/2020, 12/2021, 12/2022, and 05/2023.

3. How Can You Identify DNS Abuse?

Often domain abuse can be challenging to detect and can involve multiple components.

Many enterprises recognize that the perception they create holds significant weight, often equal to the tangible value they deliver. When your brand and identity are an integral part of your business, careful monitoring for potential misuse is essential to protecting your reputation.

While the motivations behind DNS name abuse can be diverse, it is a common strategy used by malicious actors aiming to compromise unsuspecting victims as abuse under compromised legitimate domains is more difficult to mitigate than abuse under outright malicious registrations. A classic manifestation of this strategy involves the creation of deceptive login pages that mimic your or third-party external-facing websites, intending to mislead individuals into disclosing their credentials.

4. Types of Abuse

Phishing Attacks

Cybercriminals use fraudulent domain names and websites to impersonate legitimate entities and trick users into revealing sensitive information such as passwords, credit card details, and personal data. This deceptive practice poses a significant threat to online security and user privacy.

Malware Distribution

Malicious actors establish domains or compromise websites specifically to host and disseminate malware, leading to the infection of unsuspecting users’ devices with viruses, ransomware, and spyware. This method poses a direct risk to the integrity and functionality of individuals’ and organizations’ digital systems.

Spam and Fraudulent Activities

Domains engaged in spam emails, scams, and fraudulent schemes such as fake shops contribute to a harmful online environment by eroding users’ trust. These activities can lead to financial losses for individuals and organizations, while also damaging the reputation of legitimate entities associated with the abused domain.

Trademark Infringement

Abusively registered domains may include trademarks, undermining brand value and causing financial harm to legitimate businesses. This form of domain abuse involves unauthorized use of well-known brands, potentially leading to confusion among consumers and damaging the original brand’s reputation.

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5. How Can I Protect Myself Against DNS Abuse?

As a holder of trademarks or equivalent rights, you may be able to leverage Domain Blocking functions available in a growing number of top-level domains. Domain blocking is a brand protection measure, safeguarding trademarks by restricting the availability of domain names matching protected keywords within a designated top-level-domains from unauthorized registrations. This restriction effectively prevents unauthorized use and protects the trademarks from misuse without having to resort to often costly protective registrations.

A subset of blocking services, AdultBlock is a specialized protection service designed for brand holders blocking their key words in four adult-oriented top-level domains (TLDs): .xxx, .adult, .porn, and .sex. GlobalBlock offers even more protection, covering nearly 600 domain extensions.

As a domain name registrant of a valuable or important domain, you may want to protect your domain name against unauthorized modifications or transfers at the registry level. Many registrars therefore offer Registry Lock services that prevent unauthorized, automated updates to your domain name registration in lieu of a more secure, verified manual process. Registry Lock is a high-level security feature that protects domains from unapproved modifications, internal errors, or fraud.

6. What is the Process for Reporting Domain Abuse, and What Occurs Afterward?

The process for reporting domain abuse typically involves the following steps:

Identify the Abuse

Recognize any misuse, suspicious activities, or violations related to a domain name. This may include phishing attempts, malware distribution, spam, trademark infringement, or other forms of malicious behaviour.

Gather Information

Collect relevant details about the abusive domain, such as the domain name itself, specific URLs, and any supporting evidence or context that can aid in the investigation and will allow any investigating party to duplicate your investigation.

Contact the Party Responsible for the Abused Resource

To ensure the abuse can be promptly addressed, you will want to reach out to the correct party. Reach out to the domain registrar where the abusive domain is registered to address abuse through the domain name itself, the service provider where an online service is abused or the hosting provider that maintains the webspace where a compromised content is hosted. Most providers have dedicated abuse teams or contact points for handling reports of misuse. Provide them with the sufficient actionable evidence and a clear description of the nature of the abuse. Please make sure to contact the right party as (for example) a domain registrar will not be able to assist with removing content on compromised websites.

At CentralNic Reseller our goal is to offer a superior level of service to all our customers. Our dedicated customer service team is available to assist you. If you wish to learn more about how we handle DNS abuse, or you have encountered an instance where one of our clients has misused our services, please click here to learn more.

Use Reporting Tools

Some organizations and industry groups provide specialized tools or platforms for reporting domain abuse. These tools can streamline the reporting process and ensure that the information reaches the appropriate authorities. 

Involve Law Enforcement (if necessary)

 In cases of serious criminal activities, such as cybercrime or fraud, you may need to involve law enforcement agencies. Provide them with the necessary information and cooperate in any investigations. 

Monitor the Resolution

Keep track of the reported abuse case and monitor the actions taken by the service provider or relevant authorities. Registrars may suspend the abusive domain or hosters may take down the abusive website, depending on their policies and the severity of the abuse. 

Raise Awareness 

Consider sharing information about the reported domain abuse with relevant industry groups, cybersecurity communities, or law enforcement agencies to raise awareness and prevent similar incidents in the future.

7. Final Words

The integrity of the internet depends on the conscientious and ethical utilization of domain names. Mitigating domain abuse is not just a technical challenge; it is a shared responsibility among all internet stakeholders. Through cooperation with domain registrars and registries, hosting providers, law enforcement, and internet governance bodies, we can collaboratively endeavour to transform the digital sphere into a realm of trust, innovation, and opportunity for everyone. Let’s unite in our efforts to safeguard the integrity of domain names and uphold the openness, accessibility, and security of the internet that we value today and wish to pass on to future generations. 

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