Why Internet domain registry has so much outdated information

The main database that tracks registration information for Internet domain names is
loaded with seriously outdated information.

InterNIC, the Internet Network Information Center that coordinates domain name
registration, requires domain name holders to provide an administrative and a technical
contact for every assigned domain, plus telephone numbers and e-mail addresses for the
contacts. The information is supposed to be confirmed or updated whenever a domain name is
renewed. That renewal comes once every two years for domains established after Sept. 14,
1995, or annually for those established before then. Renewals cost $50.

So when's the last time you updated your information? To check your listing, or any
domain name in the InterNIC database, visit http://rs.internic.net/cgi-bin/whois.

You may be surprised by what you find. If your information isn't current, you may run
into trouble when you need to change Internet service providers or set your domain name to
answer at a different Internet Protocol (IP) address.

InterNIC is operated by Network Solutions Inc. of Herndon, Va., under contract to
National Science Foundation. I recently used the InterNIC registration database to review
several domain names and discovered a few government sites that hadn't updated their
entries in nearly three years. Curious, I called the listed phone numbers. A few were
still good. Several were no longer valid.

If it's InterNIC's policy to keep this database updated, a lot of information seems to
be falling through the cracks. That's dangerous--many people rely on this database.
Besides being the ultimate authority on who is responsible for which Internet address,
Internet service providers use it to see if a potential domain name is already taken.
Trademark attorneys use it to check whether someone is infringing on a company name. End
users search it to see who owns an IP address that they want, so they can try to acquire
the name.

To be fair, the part of the InterNIC database that tracks the domain names seems
current. It's the part that lists administrative information for those domains that's
fallen behind.

"Ultimately, the domain name is held by the owner and they are responsible for
making sure the information is up to date," said David Graves, Internet business
manager at InterNIC. "They do that by submitting the registration template." The
same template can be used for initial domain name registration, to modify an existing
record, or to delete a registered address, he said. Visit http://rs.internic.net/help/templates.html
for a list of forms you can use.

But why is so much of the information out of date? Part of the problem may be the way
InterNIC handles renewal notices. They are simply sent to the address of the administrator
listed in the database. If that administrator has left, the mail may never get through.

"We recognize that's a problem," said Graves. "If we don't hear back, we
will contact the organization to confirm." He said InterNIC is a bit behind in making
those update requests.

But Graves insisted InterNIC is persistent in tracking down someone to notify. It tries
to contact the administrator 60 days before the required renewal and eventually will send
a letter addressed to the president of a company or the director of a government office if
it can't contact anyone else. I actually found someone who had received just such a

Usually, InterNIC prefers to see update requests come from the e-mail address of that
administrator. But Graves said it will accept requests from other users at the same
address. This seems like a weak link, but to avoid attempts to hijack an address via phony
requests, InterNIC also offers a service called Guardian to make things safer.

Guardian Level 1 is a simple "mail from" check. Level 2 is a password, which
can be set up when the address is established or renewed. Level 3 is full PGP (Pretty Good
Privacy) encryption of all messages. Again, users must ask for this service and it must be
set up ahead of time. There is no extra charge.

The bottom line is, if you've ever registered an Internet domain name, and you find
that your InterNIC record is out of date, you probably are part of the problem because you
didn't submit the right paperwork to make the update. But, human nature being what it is,
it seems to me that InterNIC relies too much on users to update a system that they may not
fully understand.

It would be nice if InterNIC kept in closer contact with administrators throughout the
year, letting them know their obligations and updating them about any new requirements.
That's an extra step that could save a lot of confusion down the road.

Shawn P. McCarthy is a computer journalist, webmaster and Internet programmer for GCN's
parent, Cahners Publishing Co. E-mail him at smccarthy@cahners.com.


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