ICANN to VeriSign: Stop it

The Internet's governing body today issued an ultimatum to VeriSign Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., operator of the .com and .net domain name registries, to discontinue the controversial VeriSign Site Finder service.

On Sept. 15, VeriSign introduced a wild-card mechanism into the registries to redirect user requests for nonexistent or inactive domains to a VeriSign site. The company operates the registries under an agreement with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

ICANN said the change 'appears to have considerably weakened the stability of the Internet.' It requested on Sept. 19 that VeriSign suspend the service, which the company declined to do. Today ICANN said it would give VeriSign until 9 p.m. Eastern time tomorrow to discontinue the service until it can be more fully reviewed.

'Failure to comply with this demand will leave ICANN with no choice but to seek promptly to enforce VeriSign's contractual obligations,' ICANN president Paul Twomey said in a letter to VeriSign executive vice president Russell Lewis.

ICANN's Security and Stability Advisory Committee will meet Oct. 7 in Washington to gather information about the effects of the Site Finder service. VeriSign has countered by scheduling a press conference Monday in Washington to defend its actions.

'It's a preview to the Tuesday ICANN hearing,' said VeriSign spokeswoman Stephanie Cathcart. 'They are going to be working through what Site Finder does, touch on where the criticism is coming from and refute it.'

Cathcart said ICANN's demand caught VeriSign off-guard. 'Tuesday's hearing was supposed to be a discussion of the issues, but it seems like some people have already made up their minds,' she said.

As operator of the .com and .net domain registries, VeriSign maintains the top-level Domain Name System servers that direct e-mail, Web site requests and other traffic to the proper servers on the Internet. Before Sept. 15, an improperly typed uniform resource locator would return a 'Page not found' message in the user's language.

With the introduction of the Site Finder service, improper requests sent the user's browser to VeriSign's Site Finder page, which offered a selection of 'Did you mean' alternatives and a search service.

VeriSign calls Site Finder a collection of 'useful tools for users who mistype a domain name.' But other commercial search services have complained that the registry operator is unfairly hijacking traffic and business.

ICANN concluded that the new system pre-empted 'Page not found' messages in local languages and blocked other useful information. Also, it redirected improperly addressed mail to VeriSign servers, broke some spam filters, interfered with the performance of some automated tools, increased traffic volume and created a single point of attack that could be attractive to hackers.

It also charged that VeriSign did not follow proper procedures for introducing a new Internet service and that it is generating undesirable workarounds for other parties.

The Internet Software Consortium has updated its Berkeley Internet Name Domain DNS software to block Site Finder.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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