Domain flub leaves 30 million customers high and dry | Cyber Security

The CEO of cloud software and services company Zoho was left begging Twitter users for help on Monday after his domain registrar effectively took the company offline, stranding millions of users.

The drama started at 8:22am PCT, when’s founder and CEO Sridhar Vembu took to Twitter with a complaint about Zoho’s domain registrar, TierraNet. The company had taken Zoho’s domain down and he couldn’t reach senior management to get it reinstated.

A domain registrar is the company that reserves a domain name for a client to use on the internet, and then keeps that record alive so that it continues to resolve to an actual IP address.

If a domain registrar decides to take down that domain name, it effectively removes the client’s online address from the domain name system (DNS), which is the web’s address book. That means that when you type the domain into your browser, you get a bad request error rather than seeing their website. Their computers may still be running, but you can’t reach them.

For Zoho, this was a big deal. The company is huge. It has 30 users, and 5,000 employees worldwide. It provides cloud-based software solutions ranging from email to CRM, invoicing, IT and helpdesk software. Its customers range from HP to Hyatt Hotels. So when its site is not available, people notice. The complaints began appearing:

When Zoho customers heeded Vembu’s online complaint and began complaining to TierraNet, the registrar told them that it had taken down Zoho’s domain after receiving complaints of phishing attacks using Zoho’s email service.

In messages to Zoho users who were complaining about the outage, TierraNet’s support staff said that they had tried to contact the company to no avail. Vembu responded that the company had received three complaints, and had only one investigation pending.

In a blog post explaining the incident, Vembu alleged that this was the result of an automated script rather than a human decision, calling out TierraNet for not consulting further with it.

Somehow this automated algorithm decided to shut down the Zoho domain based on these 3 cases – without prior warning of the shutdown, or investigation into the traffic supported by this domain.

While Vembu has been actively apologizing to customers and calling out TierraNet on Twitter, the domain registrar did not reciprocate on social media. Its own Twitter account was last updated almost a year ago. It consists mostly of messages acknowledging its own service outages from 2015 and 2017.