Opinion: Missing dot drops Sweden off the Internet

What was essentially a typo last week resulted in the temporary disappearance from the Internet of almost a million Web sites in Sweden -- every address with a .se top-level down name.

According to Web monitoring company Pingdom, which happens to be based in Sweden, the disablement of an entire top-level domain "is exceptionally rare. … Usually it's a single domain name that has been incorrectly configured or the DNS servers of a single Web host having problems. Problems that affect an entire top-level zone have very wide-ranging effects as can be seen by the .se incident. … Imagine the same thing happening to the .com domain, which has over 80 million domain names."

The total blackout of .se lasted for about an hour and a half, Pingdom says, although aftershocks continued for days.

"The .SE registry used an incorrectly configured script to update the .se zone, which introduced an error to every single .se domain name," Pingdom says. "We have spoken to a number of industry insiders and what happened is that when updating the data, the script did not add a terminating '.' to the DNS records in the .se zone. That trailing dot is necessary in the settings for DNS to understand that '.se” is the top-level domain."

Sweden's Internet Infrastructure Foundation, which administers .se, issued a statement saying essentially that things could have been a whole lot worse had it not been so much on the ball. … Good thing.

Bitten again by 'Spider guy'

Last week I read a story from Australia that described a credit-card scam that bilked 3,500 McDonald's customers out of some $2.5 million. Although the story was from a credible news source, do not ask me to vouch for its authenticity … or to even believe it.

That's because not 10 minutes earlier I had read another McDonald's-related story from Australia's news.com.au about how that country's David Thorne -- already "famous" for trying to pay a bill with a drawing of a seven-legged spider -- had copped to pulling another one over on the Internet two weeks ago.

From the second story: "A FAKE memo claiming McDonald's stores deliberately rip off customers has been revealed to be the work of the same prankster behind an infamous e-mail about a seven-legged spider. The document, mocked-up with an official McDonald's Australia letterhead and signed by fictitious managing director Robert Trugabe, outlines a secret plan to save money by leaving items out of drive-through orders."

The memo is a fake -- "Robert Trugabe" is a play on the name of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and the memo's signature was Mugabe's copied from Wikipedia -- yet that didn't stop "outrage" spreading through the blogosphere via such mainstream sites as The Consumerist and Reddit.

Both of those sites, to their credit, were among those quick to call shenanigans, but the "story" was out there and you can be certain it will live on as truth in the minds of many. McDonald's had to go so far as to place a denial on its homepage in Australia.

As hoaxer Thorne put it to the Aussie media: "The fastest and easiest way to feed anything, true or stupid, to the Internet machine is through Reddit." Or through any number of similar sites.

And here's the worst part, at least for me, a working journalist: It's only a matter of time before I fall for one of these things myself.

This story, "Opinion: Missing dot drops Sweden off the Internet" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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