By George Pongas
Vice President – Australian Registry Services, Neustar

To all .au stakeholders and community members,

Today I’d like to discuss auDA’s .au Registry Transition and Neustar’s involvement in the process from start to finish.

Why now? Neustar has been intentionally silent on this topic so far, out of professional courtesy and due to our commercial relationship with auDA. It was not our place to comment or critique. That said, as the transition approaches we feel it’s important all the relevant facts are shared. Not only does Neustar pride itself on being a leader in the domain name Registry space and wants to protect its reputation, but we’re concerned that the Australian Internet-using public has been misinformed by recent communications regarding .au.

This has been a long and complex process – and rightly so, given the critical role .au plays in Australian business, technology and society.

First, let me start with the great job my team and my predecessors did over the last 16 years.

Neustar’s stellar track record with .au

Here’s a quick snapshot of our time as .au Registry Operator:

  • 100% DNS uptime since 1st July 2002.
  • One of the first Registries to feature real-time dynamic DNS updates & to implement EPP v1.0.
  • Aussie-built Registry developed exclusively for .au.
  • Dedicated infrastructure based in Melbourne and Sydney & for Disaster Recovery commitments.
  • Global leader in DDoS mitigation services, with a scrubbing capacity greater than 10Tbps.
  • Phenomenal year-on-year growth leading .au from approx. 250,000 domains in 2002 to over 3 million today.
  • Extensive, innovative Marketing and Education programs to Registrars and Registrants.
  • Developed the .au ‘brand’ – establishing logos and collateral.
  • 24-7 and 100% Australian-based Registrar Support: from first tier through to Application Specialist all Melbourne-based.
  • Regular industry contributor and participant, supporting organisations such as Internet Australia, .auIGF, ACCAN, APTLD and ICANN.
  • 16 years of continuous participation in auDA’s Policy Panels, Committees and Working Groups.
  • Helped establish a vigorously competitive Registrar channel holding regular Registrar events.
  • Conducted research, zone file analyses and regular surveys of Internet users in Australia to track Internet and domain name trends & examine issues facing Registrars, Registrants and end users.
  • Published monthly performance scorecard and the quarterly Industry magazine Behind the Dot.

Why the transition?

When auDA announced in April 2017 that it would conduct a competitive market exercise for the provision of Registry Services for .au, admittedly the process came as a surprise to us. That said, we were of course one of the most enthusiastic participants. We respect auDA’s right to conduct a tender process and applaud any activity truly intended to improve the performance, availability and security of .au for all Australians.

In December 2017, auDA announced that the .au Registry License Agreement would be awarded to Ireland-based Registry services provider, Afilias. Thus began the planning process for the largest transition of a domain name Registry in history, to transfer all 3.15 million .au domains and associated data from our Registry platform to Afilias’.

Celebrating 30 years of .au in 2016 with Behind the Dot magazine and giveaways

Setting the record straight

In the spirit of clarifying some of the claims that have been made throughout this process, I wanted to take the opportunity to clear up some points – because the .au community deserves to be fully informed.

The claim: There will be an improvement of the .au customer support service with 24/7 coverage
The truth: Neustar already provides 24/7 customer service and technical support, based in Australia

In a blog post Afilias announced that “no registrar will need to wait ‘til tomorrow’ to resolve a problem” due to the partnership between its Melbourne and global service centres to provide 24/7 support, also claiming that this service is “beginning July 1.”

Neustar’s Australia-based team includes the entire .au operations personnel; from our already 24/7 support to all our developers, DBAs and network engineers. We have provided this service for a long time, so this will not be a new offering to Registrars.

The claim: Western Australia will be better served due to a dedicated DNS node installed in Perth
The truth: Neustar already operates a DNS node in Perth, and regardless this does not guarantee the claimed improvements

In a press release on June 13, Afilias and auDA claimed that “Users of .au domains in Western Australia will now have more resilient DNS.” This is billed as a significant improvement to .au infrastructure in WA.

Neustar already has nodes in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Also, it’s important to understand that just because there’s a locally-located DNS node, it doesn’t mean that will be where a user’s query ends up. This “new” Perth node is not providing any improvement to service than what is currently offered.  In addition, Neustar has 30 global DNS nodes supporting its full Registry system plus the largest DDoS mitigation platform in the world, with 10Tbps of mitigation capacity.  It’s unclear what protection (if any) will be safeguarding .au in the future.

The claim: The new Registry offers superior technology
The truth: The new Registry system is retrofitted and not bespoke to .au

The current Neustar Registry platform has two dedicated sites in-country (active/active) to support the technical demands of .au, with full failover possible in under a very short amount of time in case of a serious incident. The new Registry will switch to one dedicated site in Melbourne that is managed by engineers, DBAs, and developers mostly based overseas – with a cloud-based stand-by (cold site). The question is: has this been tested to see how quickly emergency failover can be implemented?

In addition, our current understanding is this new setup has been retrofitted from other TLDs; whereas our Registry was custom-built for .au, with over 16 years of development to explicitly meet all auDA policy and technical requirements. It was also built here in Australia and therefore has always stored and managed all .au data in-country.

The claim: The new .au Registry will provide enhanced security for DNS
The truth: Neustar is a world leader in DNS security and runs a global network with more than sufficient capacity to support .au

Afilias has pointed to “massive capacity, smarter DNS, [and] DNSSEC deployment” as “enhancements” to the protection and safeguarding of .au.

In actuality, Neustar’s existing DNS is scaled globally to handle capacity massively above the regular volumes of traffic. Not only this, Neustar has multiple layers of security and features to handle unusual traffic, attacks and denial of service events. This includes firewalls, auto withdrawal of nodes, intelligent DNS response and DDoS scrubbing of data streams – in fact, Neustar is a global leader in DDoS mitigation, with a scrubbing capacity of over 10Tbps. DNSSEC is also already deployed across multiple .au zones and is available to Registrants through the Registry.

The claim: Registrars will see upgrades to their systems when the Registry is transitioned
The truth: The new Registry systems will have reduced feature sets

Neustar is proud of the relationship we’ve built with .au Registrars over the last 16 years. Over that time we’ve worked closely and developed true working partnerships that have allowed us to collaborate on making the .au Registry as efficient as possible for the benefit of Registrars and ultimately the .au internet community.

We’ve raised a number of concerns directly with auDA about what we considered to be inaccurate remarks comparing Neustar’s systems with the new Registry and implying that the new Registry will include “all previous functionality plus enhanced security and authentication measures”, as stated in recent auDA Member communications. We questioned auDA about this and were informed that the statement is comparing the various testing phases of Afilias’ Registry – so the latest version has “all previous functionality” of the earlier versions. It doesn’t mean the Registry will have “all previous functionality” of Neustar’s platform – which we believe the statement implies. It is a fact that a number of the proprietary features and services that Neustar currently provides to Registrars will no longer be available under the new Registry system, and thus Registrars will likely notice a difference.

AusRegistry’s kids coding workshop for International Girls in ICT Day 2017.

What happens on July 1 once the Registry is transitioned?

At 00:00:00 on July 1, 2018, .au Registry switches in full away from Neustar. From this point, Neustar has zero control of DNS, security, support and other operations for .au. As requested by auDA, there is no rollback option for this transition – which sadly means Neustar won’t be able to support the .au community with its 3.1 million domains any longer.

As expected given the experience of running the .au domain Registry for the last 16 years, Neustar has strong opinions on the transition process. We’ve raised concerns with the timing and details of the transition and the inherent risks of this process to all relevant parties including auDA, the Department of Communications and the Arts (DOCA), as well as a number of other Australian Government agencies and departments.  Neustar has not seen what we would consider to be a sufficiently detailed Transition Plan, nor did we participate in or have seen the results of the risk assessments performed by auDA. We have found this behaviour quite puzzling and concerning and believe it is unusual for a transition of this nature.

Regardless, we are committed to continuing to fulfil all of our agreed obligations during the transition as we have done over the course of this project. We truly hope for a successful transition and the continued service without interruption for the Australian Internet community.

Neustar is in Australia to stay

While we are disappointed to see the .au Registry change hands, Neustar’s operations in Australia remain a vital part of its global Registry business, Security Solutions businesses and all the other information services we offer globally.

We’re excited to keep supporting many of our other domains for Australian customers, including the .CO domain which you might have seen in several campaigns lately, providing a truly global domain for entrepreneurs, startups and creatives. We also support the .melbourne and .sydney Top-Level Domains (TLDs), as well as numerous brand TLD clients in Australia and across Asia-Pacific.

In fact, Neustar maintains the largest portfolio of TLDs supported, with almost 300 global extensions and 14 million domains relying on our technology, expertise and know-how to keep them thriving.

We look forward to continuing to participate in and support the Australian Internet community, as we have done for 16 years and will do for years to come.