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The TLD Application System (TAS) is the official online application system implemented by ICANN program. Applicants are required to complete the registration on the system to be able to submit and manage their applications. The TAS registration is the first step in the application process and it was open from January 12 to March 29, 2012. Applicants needed to follow three steps which include: filling out an applicant profile, legal review and payment of a non-refundable deposit of $US 5000. Access to TAS will not be granted until the deposit is confirmed by ICANN. TAS will send e-mail updates and notifications to the applicants and they can also track the progress of every application they submitted.[1]

According to ICANN Senior Vice President, Kurt Pritz, every TAS account can store as many as 50 applications.[2] It was later found that each account could only store 49 applications.[3]

On February 13, 2012, he reported that there were already 100 applicants for new gTLDs in the TAS system.[4] In March, 2012, in the final week that TAS was open to registrations, 266 accounts were created. ICANN reported 556 registered users in the system and that it expected to receive more than 1,000 new gTLD applications.[5]

New gTLD consultant FairWinds Partners reported that it is processing an average of 2.7 applications per client. [6]

Reports on Technical Failures

FairWinds Partners reported that some applicants encountered technical failures using the TLD Application System and were not able to complete the profile registration. TAS was un-functional for two days. To resolve the issue, ICANN announced that there will be a scheduled TAS systems maintenance during Sunday mornings from 12:00 midnight to 2:00 in the morning UTC.[7]

On February 2, Jeff Neuman and Ken Hanson, who are both executives from Neustar, tweeted that their applications were missing on TAS. Mr. Neuman tweeted, “Check your applications in TAS. Reports of missing applications- Our application 4 .Neustar is 1 of them. TAS also lost our “unique” ID which we got upon paying initial 5k. We need ID to pay remainder, fill out app & see all apps.”[8] ICANN explained that the system encountered a display issue, which was resolved after two hours. All data was visible and there was no missing information. [9]

On April 12, 2002, ICANN's Chief Operating Officer, Akram Atallah issued a statement, just hours before TAS was scheduled to close as per the set application window, acknowledging that a a possible glitch in the TLD application system software caused a limited number of users to see the file names and user names of other users. He said that ICANN decided to shut down the system until April 17 to protect applicants' information. Mr. Atallah also said that ICANN is investigating how the problem happened and that necessary measures would be undertaken to resolve the situation. [10]

Following Atallah's statement, Kevin Murphy of DomainIncite reported that an applicant claimed that he noticed that a file from another applicant was attached to his application on April 6 and immediately reported the problem to ICANN. The applicant said, "I could infer the applicant/string… based on the name of the file." However the actual contents of the file were not visible. The TAS problem ignited different speculations and questions within the internet community, particularly the how long will TAS suffer from vulnerability, who among the applicants saw others applications and if some applicants took advantage of the situation and filed competing bids.[11][12]

On April 14, 2012, ICANN issued another statement related to the TAS problem. The internet governing body identified that a report on March 19 was the only incident related to the technical glitch.[13]

ICANN continue to delay the opening of TAS, with little explanation, and first noted that it would continue to be unavailable until April 20th.[14] [15]

Apart from the extension of the application window, ICANN also informed journalists that the problem was not caused by a cyber attack, no application data was lost and the TAS system is expected to open soon.[16][17]

On April 23, 2012, ICANN announced that it was able to identify all applicants affected by the TAS failure and the testing to fix the system is running smoothly. In addition, it also announced the postponement of the scheduled publication of all the applied new gTLD strings until April 30. [18] Two days after, ICANN released an update informing applicants that the TAS will re-open on April 27. [19] ICANN continuously provided update to the internet community regarding the progress of the testing to resolve the system. On April 27, the internet governing body reported that based on its analysis there are still limited number of affected applicants and tests to improve the system are being conducted continuously. ICANN again delayed the opening of the TAS system but promised to continue to provide updates.[20]

On April 30, 2012, ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom stated that he is hoping that the technical failure will be fixed before his term expired and he passes the job to his successor during the ICANN 44 meeting, which was to be held in Prague on June 29, 2012. He said, "I’d like to see us obviously get the technical issues resolved, notify applicants, reopen the window and publish the strings before I pass the baton in Prague. That’s not a commitment at this point in time, it’s an indication as CEO that it’s absolutely my intention to push for a timely resolution of this issue… If we can get things done sooner, then the sooner the better." [21]

On May 2, 2012, ICANN reported that there were 1268 registered users and around 95,000 file attachments were available when the system went offline. It estimated 455 incidents wherein a file name and user name was possibly seen by another applicant. It also identified that the file names and user names of 105 applicants were viewed by another applicant and 50 applicants possibly viewed the file names and user names of one or more applicants. ICANN assured the internet community that it was continuously working on improving the system to fix the technical problem.[22] On May 4, ICANN informed that it received approximately $350 million dollars in application fees and the payments from 214 potential applicants registered before the March 29 cut had yet to be received. In addition, the internet governing body also reported that notifications were being sent to applicants informing them if they were affected by the software. The notification process was expected to be completed by May 8 and the schedule to re-open the TAS to be announced thereafter.[23]

ICANN re-opened the TLD Application System on May 21. TAS was down for a total of 40 days; the length of this downtime has been criticized by ICANN's detractors and supporters alike.[24] All applicants were able to log in, review and submit their applications until May 30, 2012.[25]

ANA's Reaction to the TAS Technical Problem

Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) reacted that the TAS technical problem demonstrated that the new gTLD expansion program is moving too quickly. He said, "It's another warning signal to go slower, and make sure you have worked out all the glitches before you roll out a new system." Furthermore, he emphasized that the technical glitch on the system showed that it is impossible for ICANN to adequately police the new domain names and any sizable increase of TLDs will result in the proliferation of cybersquatting, phishing and impostor websites.[26]

Furthermore, ANA's president, Bob Liodice, issued a press release requesting the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to urge ICANN to hire an independent IT expert to investigate the TAS technical problem. [27]

Reaction from Cong. Bob Goodlatte

U.S. Congressman Bob Goodlatter, chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee, expressed his concerns regarding the TAS technical problem. He said that he is worried if ICANN won't be able to resolve the problem appropriately, many people around the world might push aside ICANN and advocate for more direct governmental control on the internet. He also suggested that ICANN "may have undertaken more than they may be able to responsibly manage."[28]

Jeff Moss Explains TAS Technical Failure

While TAS was offline, ICANN’s Vice President and Chief Security Officer Jeff Moss described TAS technical problem in an interview with Brad White, ICANN Director of Global Media Affairs, and how it was being resolved by the internet governing body. He explained that shutting down the system is the safest action to protect the applicants.