Criminals the primary users of Whois privacy services: ICANN

ICANN has found more ammunition for its fight to overhaul the existing Whois system, finding that more criminals are using Whois privacy/proxy services than regular users.

A new study commissioned by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) shows that the current ad hoc privacy controls in place with the Whois system are being abused.

ICANN is currently in the process of recommending that the Whois system — a pseudo-directory of contact details for domain names — be replaced to include features such as authenticated access.

At the moment, domain name owners are required to list contact details for the administrators of the domain, including a phone number and address. As the information is freely available to anyone, many have begun taking their own actions to secure their privacy.

Typically, domain name owners provide false information, or use privacy/proxy services as an ad hoc way of doing so. These services hide the public record, but will release it when needed (such as when law enforcement agencies request it).

However, an ICANN-commissioned study conducted by the University of Cambridge and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has found that these privacy/proxy services are being abused by criminals.

The full study has yet to be published, but ICANN senior policy director Mary Wong said it shows that "the percentage of domain names used to conduct illegal or harmful internet activities that are registered via privacy or proxy services is significantly greater than those used for lawful online activities".

The effectiveness of the existing system, even when privacy/proxy services are not used, was also brought into question. For domains that did not appear to be engaging in criminal activity, NPL was unable to contact the listed registrant 25 to 55 percent of the time. If the domain was being used for illegal activity, this figure rose to 83 to 93 percent of the time.