Fraudsters may have a hot deal waiting for them in the form of an obscure Chinese domain name that's for sale on the Internet.
The wpad.cn domain is for sale, according to a note posted on the Web site. That fact probably doesn't mean much to most people, but to Duane Wessels it's a big deal. He says that if it fell into criminal hands it could be misused for phishing or other types of fraud.
Wessels, the president of Measurement Factory, owns five wpad domains -- wpad.com, wpad.net, wpad.org, wpad.biz and wpad.us. Between them, he gets 5 million hits per day. Most of them come from Windows computers erroneously looking for network configuration information, thanks to a decade-old Windows bug that Microsoft first fixed in 1999.
Nobody knows why sites like Wessels' continue to get so much traffic long after Microsoft patched the flaw. He thinks it may come from old versions of Windows, obscure programs with built-in Web components, or perhaps even misconfigured servers on the network. Microsoft did not respond to a query about the issue on Tuesday.
According to Wessels, if criminals were to take control of the wpad.cn domain they could set themselves up as a proxy Web server for their victims, redirecting them to a phishing site or sneaking unwanted ads onto their computers.
The flaw that sends so much traffic to Wessels' sites lies in the way some PCs search for a Web Proxy Auto-Discovery (WPAD) server on the network. These servers are trusted machines, set up by administrators to send the PC a Web configuration file called wpad.dat.
The WPAD server's name will start with wpad (as in wpad.corp.idg.com) so, using a technique known as DNS devolution, Windows systems will search far and wide for a machine starting with those four letters. Unfortunately, this sometimes sends them out of the network -- to Wessels' wpad.com Web site, for example. Computers in China that were similarly misconfigured would likely look to the wpad.cn domain.
Wessels and other DNS experts think that someone could probably misuse the wpad.cn domain by sending malicious wpad.dat files to those computers. "It could be used to mine information like account names and account numbers," said Cricket Liu, vice president of architecture with Infoblox. "You could potentially modify any content that they might see."
Contacted by IDG News Service, brokers representing the wpad.cn domain owners offered to sell it cheap. In an instant-message interview, an agent with Aomei New Investment Consulting said the domain could be had for ¥12,000 (US$1,760).
For criminals, that would be a pretty good deal, said Tomasz Koperski, the vice-CEO with FutureMind.com, which has acquired more than 40 wpad-related domains. He owns the wpad.com.tw domain, for example, which has received more than 5 million hits so far this month from computers looking for wpad.dat files, he said via instant message.
The wpad.cn owners probably don't know about the WPAD issue, Wessels said. "My guess is that they are not noticing that they get a lot of requests for this proxy autoconfig file," he said. "If they knew what they had there they would probably charge more."