Law enforcement lobbies hard for ICANN changes

Tightening up the domain name system would greatly help police battle cybercriminals

U.S. and U.K. law enforcement officials are trying to marshal support for changes that would make it more difficult for criminals to register domain names under false details.

Their aim is to get the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) -- the overseer of the Internet's addressing system -- to impose stronger rules on registrars for generic top-level domains (gTLDs), such as ".com."

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.K.'s Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) presented recommendations to ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) last fall in Seoul. Each country has a formal representative to the GAC.

Among those recommendations are that ICANN should require its vetted registrars to check that the information used to register domain names isn't obviously fraudulent.

Also, they'd like to see a reformation of proxy services used to mask domain name ownership in the WHOIS database, while still respecting people's right to privacy.

The DNS (Domain Name System) structure now allows for almost complete anonymity, said Paul Hoare, senior manager and head of e-crime operations for SOCA.

ICANN should administer either the proxy registration itself or oversee proxy registration companies so there is an audit process and registrants can, with the right legal documentation, be traced, Hoare said.

Although criminals will still be able to game the system, the changes will help law enforcement, he said.

The proposals are supported by the G8 High Tech Crime Group and Interpol, said Robert Flaim, supervisory special agent with the operational technical branch of the FBI.

Hoare and Flaim asked participants attending the Council of Europe's cybercrime conference this week to contact their GAC representative and advocate supporting the proposals. ICANN is scheduled to hold a meeting in Brussels from June 20 to June 25.

"What we are effectively saying to you here is that there is tangible opportunity to change the landscape of the law enforcement," Hoare said. "We may be able to offer you a tangible reduction in criminal capability within your own jurisdictions."

However, the changes will likely increase the cost of domain names. Domain name registration services are typically low-margin businesses, with more money made through other ways such as privacy registration services.

"It's going to cost money," Flaim said. "Obviously, there's a lot of opposition from the registrars."

ICANN has formed a working group within the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO), which formulates the organization's domain name policy, to evaluate proposals from the FBI and SOCA. The GNSO should issue a report in a few months and eventually vote on the proposal, which would also need approval by ICANN's board of directors.

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