External Threat Management

Domain Abuse: When Foxes Guard the Chicken Coop

The internet is still a lot like the wild west—outlaws and bandits running amok with little standing in their way of a lucrative plunder. And, unfortunately, in my analogy, cybersecurity researchers like me are often the overwhelmed Sheriff just trying to keep the peace.

Bad guys intrinsically have the advantage in today's threat landscape—they're the ones on the offensive and have an arsenal of different techniques to cover up their identities and locations at their disposal. Meanwhile, the good guys, vastly outnumbered, are stuck trying to figure out every possible move (of a nearly infinite variety) they may try next.

So here's the forehead-slapping question: Why do we keep giving the bad guys free or incredibly cheap resources to abuse? Today, people can register domains for nothing to practically nothing—and unsurprisingly, rampant free domain abuse is the result.

How RiskIQ detects it

Observe this RiskIQ web crawl featuring an EITest Malicious Flash Redirector Injection:

RiskIQ web crawl featuring an EITest Malicious Flash Redirector Injection

Inside, we see a compromised website, Venice.com.br, and an injected top-level domain (TLD) FUMC.ML. The TLD is from Freenom, the world’s first provider (Registrar) to give free domain names away. Freenom may fancy itself the Robin Hood of domains, helping the less fortunate get a custom domain or email address, but in reality, it's the more unsavory set benefiting from its efforts.

To continue my analogy, imagine a completely unprotected train full of gold bars chugging toward our outlaw-infested town. That's what free domain providers like Freenom are to threat actors on the internet. The price chart below shows how anyone can register a variety of top-level domain names for free as long as they have a valid email address:

Freenom pricing list

Looking at the RiskIQ data above, we can see free domain abuse has been rising since around the end of life of Angler, which happened on June 7th. We’re now seeing this activity ultimately lead to Neutrino EK.

Domain abuse is on the rise

Protect yourself

RiskIQ is uniquely equipped to shift the balance of power to the good guys by uncovering the infrastructure of these domain abusers. Inside PassiveTotal, we queried the example domain's IP address,, to see anything else related to the IP:

Some of the 830 domains linking to the sample IP

There you have it; 839 unique domains to be exact linking to the IP, each registered through Freenom and blacklisted by RiskIQ.

Horrifyingly, this is just one IP from one example of free domain abuse. There’s a vast array of nefarious possibilities when it comes to using these. Handing out additional resources to threat actors to make a living abusing the system is not my idea of a fair deal.

As seen above, cybersecurity professionals can use PassiveTotal analyze these domain abusers’ infrastructure to better understand their intentions and capabilities. This richer intelligence during incident investigations will help you overcome challenges in discovering and proactively block threats related to nefarious domains.

Questions? Feedback? Email research-feedback@riskiq.net to contact our research team.

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