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Getting the low-down from XYZ Registry on combating domain abuse

We've been reaching out to registries for their views and opinions on combating internet abuse for this blog post series. Recently we had an in-depth conversation with XYZ on their approach to domain abuse.

by The XYZ team March 03, 20226 minutes reading time

Protecting the internet and making it a safer place to operate is everyone’s responsibility. Spamhaus works with a broad spectrum of organizations across the industry to ensure this happens, including registries.

We’ve been reaching out to registries for their views and opinions on combating internet abuse for this blog post series. Recently we had an in-depth conversation with XYZ on their approach to domain abuse.Before diving into that interview, let’s define “domain abuse” from Spamhaus’ perspective. For this, I’ll defer to our domain Guru, Carel Bitter:

“We usually see domain name abuse as using one or more domain names to enable abusive, fraudulent, or malicious activity. The domain names are often a crucial link in the chain, as many of these activities would not work anymore once the domains involved are not functioning anymore. So, taking action on a domain name breaks the malicious activity.”

Now, without further ado, here’s what XYZ had to say on the matter…

Spamhaus: Why is it important for XYZ to invest in anti-spam and other anti-abuse measures?

XYZ: It’s crucial for us to protect the .xyz namespace for all of its legitimate users. Individuals such as NFL Super Bowl champion turned motivational speaker MarquesColston.xyz and businesses like Square parent company Block .xyz place their trust and online presence in .xyz, and it’s imperative that our top-level domain (TLD) remains as free as possible from abuse. This is why the XYZ Anti-Abuse team prioritizes combating abuse – we value our community.

Spamhaus: What does XYZ consider to be domain abuse?

XYZ: XYZ’s Anti-Abuse Policy prohibits technical abuse of the DNS – including the following activities:

  • Spam
  • Phishing
  • Distribution of Malware
  • BotNets
  • SMS Phishing
  • Illegal activities

The XYZ Anti-Abuse Policy extends beyond what is required by ICANN, the nonprofit organization that focuses on ensuring a stable, secure, and unified global Internet. XYZ suspends abuse found when monitoring, and spam is included as a violation of our anti-abuse policy, as it is a significant area of concern.

Spamhaus: We’re pleased to see you include spam in your policy. Why do you feel it important to do so?

XYZ: Spam is widely used as a gateway to proliferate links to technical abuse of the DNS, like malware and phishing. Spam campaigns can send up a substantial flare, more easily noticed by cybersecurity platforms. This is one of the reasons why we deeply encourage spam protection services. By keeping our namespace safe and secure, .xyz and all XYZ zones are rated as safe zones throughout the internet, and this is very important to us.

We have seen some networks take extreme measures in the form of blanket blocking certain TLDs due to a network admin seeing a spam campaign in a namespace. We do not think that is a safe best practice, and it is not recommended. Due to our proactive measures in preventing spam from proliferating, we hope our domain extensions do not show up on any of those radars. If they do, we encourage reporting abuse directly to the registry so we can take action!

Spamhaus: We agree with you regarding blanket-blocking. The domain space is a very dynamic one. And as such, it’s hard to predict where the next big domain, the next hot start-up, may choose its name. While it may seem like a quick win to dismiss an entire TLD, you will undoubtedly target things you don’t want to. Meanwhile, the miscreants you were originally targeting have switched to a different TLD.

While we’re on the topic of “targeting miscreants,” it’s evident that .xyz has an ever-increasing community of legitimate websites. Often, with increased domain numbers comes increased exposure to abuse. However, in the latest Botnet Report, .xyz saw a 52% reduction in the number of domain registrations used for botnet command & controllers (C&Cs), which is really positive. What is XYZ doing to prevent abuse before it happens?

XYZ: There are various actions that we take, including those noted below.

  1. Deterring cybercriminal activity: XYZ is very public about the fact that our Anti-Abuse team is rapid and rigorous in its approach to takedowns. In being so open about our stance, we deter users with malicious intentions.
  2. Registration monitoring: We work to identify patterns in registrations to observe any “blocks” of domains registered at once, to measure the likelihood of abuse, as well as commonly abused naming patterns.
  3. Registrar warnings: Since XYZ does not have direct access to domain customers, we alert our registrar partners daily if any .xyz domains under their management are being abused. We request that registrars identify and ban the bad actors.

Spamhaus: Having worked with XYZ for many years, we know you’re quick to act on confirmed abuse reports. Aside from using these, what tools and processes have you available to keep on top of abuse?

XYZ: We have developed sophisticated abuse monitoring software which allows us to proactively monitor, detect in near real time, and actively intervene when any of the aforementioned activities are detected.

XYZ has also established an abuse feedback system that allows individuals to report abuse 24/7. When individuals or independent researchers report .xyz abuse directly to the registry, XYZ can quickly investigate and suspend domain names in violation of our Anti-Abuse Policies.

As you’ve mentioned, we’ve developed strong partnerships with Spamhaus, as well as many other cybersecurity providers. This effort helps us identify and eliminate the bad apples from the many good ones that we have in our namespace.

Spamhaus: OK – so you’ve identified an abusive domain, what actions do you take?

**XYZ:**We immediately shut down the domain and notify the sponsoring registrar so they can further investigate, identify the registrant’s additional assets, and shut down or ban the customer if necessary. However, we don’t have any of the registrant’s details, so other than suspending the domain, the rest of the work lies with the registrars. This is a challenge for cybersecurity in general…

For now, let’s leave this here, and you can go and refill your coffee! In our next blog post, we’ll pick up with XYZ to learn more about the challenge of not knowing the full scope of a bad actor’s domains, alongside hearing some of their thoughts on how this issue can be resolved.