A Reexamination of Internationalized Domain Names:
the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Baojun Liu, Chaoyi Lu, Zhou Li, Ying Liu, Haixin Duan, Shuang Hao and Zaifeng Zhang

This paper is accepted by DSN '18. You may download the paper.


Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) are domain names containing non-ASCII characters. Despite its installation in DNS for more than 15 years, little has been done to understand how this initiative was developed and its security implications. In this work, we aim to fill this gap by studying the IDN ecosystem and cyber-attacks abusing IDN.
In particular, we performed by far the most comprehensive measurement study using IDNs discovered from 56 TLD zone files. Through correlating data from auxiliary sources like WHOIS, passive DNS and URL blacklists, we gained many insights. Our discoveries are multi-faceted. On one hand, 1.4 million IDNs were actively registered under over 700 registrars, and regions within east Asia have seen prominent development in IDN registration. On the other hand, most of the registrations were opportunistic: they are currently not associated with meaningful websites and they have severe configuration issues (e.g., shared SSL certificates). What is more concerning is the rising trend of IDN abuse. So far, more than 6K IDNs were determined as malicious by URL blacklists and we also identified 1,516 and 1,497 IDNs showing high visual and semantic similarity to reputable brand domains (e.g., apple.com). Meanwhile, brand owners have only registered a few of these domains.
Our study suggests the development of IDN needs to be reexamined. New solutions and proposals are needed to address issues like its inadequate usage and new attack surfaces.