The “high-throughput blockchain platform” Zilliqa and their grantee “Unstoppable Domains” are pitching their vision for domain name systems over blockchain, with the .zil top-level domain (TLD) the first of Unstoppable Domains’ offerings. Typically, fly-by-night blockchain startups are essentially (and literally, given the proliferation of worthless altcoins) a dime a dozen—this plan is so intellectually vacant as to require commentary.
Unstoppable Domains’ conceit, as stated in a press release, is that “the self-custody nature of blockchain domains gives owners the ability to create uncensorable websites and permissionless transfers. Once domains are transferred into a user’s wallet, those users have full custody over that asset.” In effect, this prevents registrars from locking domains used for fraud or abuse— also circumventing the potential for arbitration, like the ICANN Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP).
SEE: Launching a career in cybersecurity: An insider’s guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Why would ICANN, the operator of the public DNS root zone, allow this to happen? ICANN is not involved—the entire Unstoppable Domains system operates outside the control of ICANN, on an alternative DNS root, making any of the .zil domain names unresolvable (and therefore unusable) by default on computers and smartphones. Using an alternative DNS root requires changing DNS settings, which is not always possible, depending on the security settings of your computer.
The business plan is not remotely novel or innovative. Attempting to operate a domain name service over blockchain was attempted in 2011 with Namecoin, which was banned from OpenNIC in July following abuse of the platform by malware operators. OpenNIC itself is the biggest and longest-serving alternative DNS root operator, founded in 2000. It operates TLDs including .chan, .neo, and .pirate, as well as provides peering for .fur, a TLD operated by FurNIC.
EmerDNS also exists, and is equally useless.
The security benefit that these blockchain-based DNS operators purport to provide is specious, at best. It provides no actual networking security that initiatives such as DNS over HTTPS—which is secure enough it earned Mozilla the “Internet Villain” award from the Internet Services Providers Association in the UK for making censorship difficult.
Unstoppable Domains claims to have more than 80,000 domains already registered, though is opening a “sunrise period” for trademark owners to register names to avoid cybersquatting. Simultaneously, the company is auctioning “premium” domains, including “the most common words, the shortest words, and the most valuable .com domains,” with the go-live scheduled for September 15.
The complete lack of oversight or abuse prevention—touted as a feature, not a bug, in several places in the press release—states “it is extremely important for trademark holders to protect their brand and claim their digital assets before somebody else does,” adding that asset transfers are “irreversible,” and that “brands should be aware not just of how to protect themselves, but also to be proactive about their presence on the blockchain internet.”
Attempts to cloak Unstoppable Domains in credibility are also peppered into the release, claiming that the company is “similar to Verisign, owner of .com,” and that “IBM and Amazon have already begun deploying their own solutions to claim digital assets,” linking to their own independent and unrelated blockchain initiatives.
The proliferation of ICANN-sanctioned generic TLDs (gTLDs) is problematic enough for trademark owners, with a 2015 investigation into the .sucks gTLD by the FTC and Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs condemning the operation as “predatory, exploitative and coercive.” Unstoppable Domains’ introduction of a blockchain-based domain system, and simultaneous hand waving of trademark protection and anti-abuse concerns as impossible because the design of the system is completely irresponsible.
For more on domain names, check out “Rampant spam, falling registrations show new gTLDs have limited business value” and “How fraudulent domain names are powering phishing attacks” on TechRepublic.