[UA-discuss] Re : And now about phishing...

Edmon Chung edmon at registry.asia
Fri Apr 21 10:00:27 UTC 2017


You bring up a great point.

The TLD registry policies are as important as the browsers.  And we should certainly reach out to them.


Don/CommsTeam, Is Edelman on the case already?






From: ua-discuss-bounces at icann.org [mailto:ua-discuss-bounces at icann.org] On Behalf Of Vittorio Bertola
Sent: Friday, 21 April 2017 17:04 PM
To: ua-discuss at icann.org; Asmus Freytag <asmusf at ix.netcom.com>
Subject: Re: [UA-discuss] Re : And now about phishing...



Il 21 aprile 2017 alle 0.52 Asmus Freytag <asmusf at ix.netcom.com <mailto:asmusf at ix.netcom.com> > ha scritto:

If you think about it, the following recommendation at the end is anathema to "Universal acceptance":

"Zheng is encouraging Firefox users to limit their exposure to the bug by going to the browser’s about:config settings and setting network.IDN_show_punycode to true. By doing this Firefox will always display IDN domains in its Punycode form, something that should make it easier to identify malicious domains, the researcher claims."

If you do that, you implicitly assume that only the "non-IDN" links are "real", in other words, you assume an English-only environment. (When stuff is displayed as punicode, you usually can't tell what domain it is, except you can guess for some European ones with very few special characters, but you can't be sure unless the Unicode form is at least also displayed, which I think is not what that config change means).


excuse me if I jump into a discussion having just joined the list, but this issue is really troubling me for at least two reasons.

First, many news sources are now filling up with calls and guides for disabling IDNs in browsers altogether, which is a death call for universal acceptance. It all started with this horrible post by Wordfence's CEO, basically equating IDNs to an instrument conceived for phishing:


It would be really good if anyone knew him and could have a chat with him, maybe even convince him to help spreading a better view of the issue.

Secondly, browser makers are now reacting in opposite ways:

1) Microsoft's browser (AFAIK) will enable or disable the display of Unicode in the URL bar depending on the operating system's language;

2) Google's browser, with a newly released patch, will not display Unicode IDNs in ASCII TLDs if the IDNs are whole-script confusables ( https://codereview.chromium.org/2683793010 );

3) Mozilla's browser will explicitly always display Unicode IDNs regardless of whether this may be used for phishing ( https://wiki.mozilla.org/IDN_Display_Algorithm_FAQ  <https://wiki.mozilla.org/IDN_Display_Algorithm_FAQ> and https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=1332714 ). However, multiple online sources are now advising people to use a Firefox configuration option that allows to disable the display of IDNs altogether.

(Don't know about Apple, Opera and others.)

As you see, this is going to hamper the usability of IDNs in URLs and, even worse, make it entirely unpredictable, depending on the user's browser choice.

The only real solution to this is that all registries treat whole script confusables as variants, so that they cannot be registered to anyone different than the owner of the equivalent ASCII domain. Unicode TR-39 allows to do this programmatically. However, I just checked the proposed draft IDN guidelines that are currently undergoing public consultation at ICANN:


At point 16, they say that the registry "may" do this, but that should really be a "must". If this does not happen, there will be more of these situations and the risk that all the Western world will then disable IDNs in URLs for good is quite significant. 

I think that this group could do several useful things:

a) promote a better public understanding of the issue, countering the trend that "IDN URLs are for phishing";

b) encourage browser makers to elaborate a common approach;

c) push for ICANN and the registries to free the Internet from whole-script confusables.



Vittorio Bertola
Research & Innovation Engineer 


+39 348 7015022


in-skype-ox at bertola.eu <mailto:in-skype-ox at bertola.eu> 


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