Avoid Falling Victim to a Registrar Phishing Attack

Dave Piscitello, Internet Security Skeptic | 8/2/2011 | 8 comments

Dave Piscitello
In my last blog, "Phishers Are Casting Nets for Your Domain Names & DNS," I explained that even though security experts routinely warn Internet users to watch out for email notices from banks or e-merchants, these are not the only online businesses exploited by scammers.

Phishers also use emails from domain name registrars in phishing scams to gain control over legitimate domain names. Often, the attacker's objective is to change the IP addresses of your name servers in order to control name resolution for your domain. An attacker who can gain control over your name servers can inflict reputation harm -- directly, through Web defacement or email interception, or indirectly, by using your domain as a source for spam or other criminal activities.

Basic phishing avoidance and awareness are a big part of the vigilance your organization needs to maintain to avoid falling victim to registrar attacks. Beyond these -- especially if your organization cannot afford the embarrassment of a defacement or a disruption of online presence of any length or kind -- you may want to consider measures recommended by ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC), described below.

  • Use registrar emails to your advantage. Registrars often send notification emails when changes are made to your domain account. Use these to confirm that the changes were authorized and correct. As an extra precaution, use an email address from a domain other than those registered under your registration account. This protects against an attacker who compromises your registration account and quickly alters your mail exchange (MX) record to block your organization from receiving emails.

  • Use multiple point of contact information to distribute risk and response. Each domain name registration contains a registrant (domain holder), along with administrative and technical points of contact. Use three distinct points of contact (including email addresses) to increase the likelihood that at least one responsible party in your organization will notice unauthorized changes.

  • Monitor your domain’s Whois and DNS information. A simple monitoring activity that routinely compares responses from Whois and DNS queries against what you believe to be the complete and correct domain registration, DNS configuration, and domain zone information for your registered domains can save your organization’s assets. For larger organizations, look for a registrar or independent business that includes such monitoring as part of an online brand protection package.

  • Have complete account, abuse contact, and configuration information ready and available for event response and recovery. Be certain you have urgent point of contact information for your domain registrar(s). Be prepared to present copies of your registration information, proof of registration, name server hosting information, and zone data in situations where you may have to recover from a domain registration account compromise.

You may ask why your organization, and not your registrar, should have to put this kind of effort into protecting domain name assets. You could very easily ask the same of the online banking and e-merchant services your organization uses. Though these are different assets, the issue is the same. Phishers thrive on deception and social engineering. They study the security measures that banks, e-merchants, and registrars implement, so they can subvert them. You can’t rely on these security measures exclusively. Ultimately, the responsibility to avoid falling victim to scams of any kind is yours.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
securityskeptic   Avoid Falling Victim to a Registrar Phishing Attack   8/3/2011 8:39:46 AM
Re: Solid advice
> Have to wonder if it was on purpose actually - having a monopoly on certain info in an > org can really leverage your degree of power.

There are sufficient incidents where disgruntled or opportunistic employees registered domains to corroborate this.

Very few organizations appreciate or take measures to avoid the unanticipated consequences of non-renewal of domains, or lax management of domain registration records that lead to domain hijacking or misuse of name service. Incidents of this kind occur far more frequently than you imagine.
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Technocrat   Avoid Falling Victim to a Registrar Phishing Attack   8/3/2011 6:03:12 AM
Re: Solid advice
@vnewman  Amazing !  I always thought that a website disappearing was a possibility but was never actually in the hot seat when it did !  : ) 
Technocrat   Avoid Falling Victim to a Registrar Phishing Attack   8/3/2011 5:58:53 AM
Vigilance and Peace of Mind

@ Dave  This is great advice !  Something companies should surely take a proactive approach towards, the whole process of Domain registration is so often ignored after the process is "completed", but your point is excellent - the process is never really complete - it requires ongoing monitoring and a thoughtful inital setup.


Thanks for the tips, I will surely use them in the future!

vnewman   Avoid Falling Victim to a Registrar Phishing Attack   8/3/2011 1:05:07 AM
Re: Solid advice
Exactly. And the 30 seconds it would have taken to add that extra information could have saved the department a day's worth of headaches. Have to wonder if it was on purpose actually - having a monopoly on certain info in an org can really leverage your degree of power.
batye   Avoid Falling Victim to a Registrar Phishing Attack   8/3/2011 12:46:48 AM
Re: Solid advice
really good point, could not agree more, you could have "total security" on site...

but your weakest link could be third part provider...
securityskeptic   Avoid Falling Victim to a Registrar Phishing Attack   8/2/2011 7:56:24 PM
Re: Solid advice
Your incident is not unique. But think of how easily your organization might have avoided missing the renewal notifications if they'd provided different points of contact information for registrant, administrative, and technical contacts when they registered the domain.

Of these, it's important that you identify someone who, or some name or some job title that represents the "owner-entity" (business, not for profit,etc) as *registrant*. The other contacts are support roles, but the registrant contact is the one that would ultimately be important in a domain recovery situation or (trademark) litigation.
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vnewman   Avoid Falling Victim to a Registrar Phishing Attack   8/2/2011 6:09:21 PM
Re: Solid advice
Here here! I think once the domain is secured, many people tend to just forget about maintaining it. At least once in my experience, the domain at my firm was allowed to expire as the only contact and registration info was for the IT director that got fired. Of course his email account was cancelled and no one ever got the notices that were sent as warnings. The day the website disappeared was not a fun day in our department.
Sara Peters   Avoid Falling Victim to a Registrar Phishing Attack   8/2/2011 2:06:23 PM
Solid advice
Certain segments of our IT infrastructure cannot be kept entirely in-house, and your organization's Web site domain is clearly one of those segments. Just because the domain is provided and maintained by a third party doesn't mean we're totally off the hook when it comes to Web security... but that's something we definitely need to be reminded of from time to time.

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