ICANN asks VeriSign to suspend controversial service

It wants to investigate the Site Finder, service VeriSign launched last week

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has asked VeriSign Inc. to suspend its new Site Finder service while it conducts an investigation into the system.

Site Finder is a Web service that appears when users attempt to reach a Web site whose domain name doesn't exist. This mostly happens as a result of mistyping. Site Finder offers users a search engine, a list of existing domains with related spellings and a directory of Web sites. To enable the service, VeriSign had to create a wild-card address record so that all attempts to reach sites in the .com and .net address space, except those with valid domain names, result in redirection to Site Finder.

When VeriSign launched the service on Sept. 15, complaints began to flow from many people, especially those involved with the technical side of the Internet and those operating competing search services, because they saw it as an attempt to hijack Web traffic that would otherwise result in an error message or redirection to a search service of the user's preference.

In a statement it issued on Friday, ICANN said it has been "monitoring community reaction" to the service and is "carefully reviewing the terms of the .com and .net Registry Agreements." It also asked its Security and Stability Advisory Committee and the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) to produce a report on the subject, which was issued Saturday.

The report noted a long list of concerns with the service. These include the loss of local-language error messages to VeriSign's English-language Site Finder, additional load for e-mail servers and the failure of some spam filters that check for valid domain names. It also noted that users who pay for data based on the volume sent and received will see higher costs as a result of a single "domain not found" packet being replaced by the 17KB Site Finder home page and said the system represented a single point of failure and raised privacy concerns.

The IAB report didn't conclude that the use of wild-card records be prohibited, but it said such a system is "dangerous" and should be enabled only with a full understanding of the impact on the network.

ICANN, in the statement issued before the IAB report was published, said it has called on VeriSign to voluntarily suspend the service until various reviews are completed. As of last night, the Site Finder service appeared to remain in operation.

The IAB report can be found online.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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