Yesterday, VeriSign resorted to more anti-competitive, monopolistic tactics. They’ve placed a wildcard in global DNS records for .com and .net top-level domains, essentially hijacking all unregistered domains, and those with invalid DNS entries. In place of the traditional error page most browsers used to display, any user who enters an unregistered domain ending in .com or .net (including misspellings) now gets redirected to VeriSign’s Site Finder service, which displays a page entirely controlled by VeriSign, supposedly providing links to the possible intended destination.
Unsuspecting news organizations are reporting this as a (ahem) helpful service which “provide some clues to help you find the sites you were looking for“. But ultimately, this appears to be nothing more than another land-grabbing, money-making scam. The page to which all unregistered domains redirect also provides a search form and a short list of categories pointing to results. Many of the first few results are all paid, sponsored links apparently coming from Overture. VeriSign themselves have estimated that .com and .net domains get mistyped approximately 20 million times per day. You can imagine the traffic VeriSign is suddenly forcing their way as a result of this change.
See Site Finder yourself by trying any non-existent domain, like blipvip.com or veribadsign.com.
Understandably, network administrators and web geeks everywhere are furious about all kinds of concerns this raises: privacy, failed anti-spam measures, and others which go beyond my understanding. What I find interesting, is that many ISPs and backbone providers are fighting back by blocking the IP address(es) associated with VeriSign’s Site Finder. The nonprofit Internet Software Consortium is already writing an urgent patch for BIND, a service used by many ISPs to help resolve domain names to the IP addresses of the servers which host each site. The patch will allow ISPs and other DNS admins “to restore control by identifying and then ignoring data from Site Finder“.
With so many people, companies, and organizations upset at VeriSign for such an unethical move, we’ll see how long this scam lasts. Stay up-to-date on the issue by checking Google News or following the huge Slashdot thread on the subject.
Update: Wired News posted the Associated Press version of the story: VeriSign Takes Sting out of Typos, and Declan McCullagh just wrote a good piece for News.com: VeriSign redirects error pages.
Update 2: Since writing this entry, someone snatched up the domain veribadsign.com, so the link above no longer redirects to Site Finder.