The Great Domain Robbery of 05

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2005-01-18 Print this article Print

Opinion: Not too long after ICANN changed the rules, a domain thief has stolen several domains. Have the new rules already failed, or have the registrars failed their customers?

A lot of people lost e-mail, access to Web administration and even their porno accounts over the weekend. Yes, it was a momentous and stressful couple of days. Several domains were stolen, including, the home domain of Internet service provider Panix, the oldest ISP in the New York area (or so they say about themselves). This particular thievery is what raised most of the attention, because Panix customers who use a e-mail address stopped getting their mail.

According to this message on ICANNs message boards by George Kirikos, and (both of which, I think, are car-related sites), as well as, appear to have been stolen as well. In fact, all three of these domains seem now to have the same whois data and point to the same Web site. Some serious traffic was diverted, and the new sites are spyware-infected. (Perhaps the old ones were too, I cant say.)

It may be the first great test of the response of ICANN and the domain registrar industry to a violation of their new policies implemented late in 2004. I expressed concern about these new policies at the time, but was reassured that one of the strengths of the new system was the well-defined mechanism for dealing with disputes.

But theres a good chance here that the central issue is not so much disputes between registrars but sloppy procedures at some registrars that allowed an unverified transfer through. Panix says on its home page (as of Monday morning, EST) that Melbourne IT, the Aussie registrar to whom the domain was illegitimately transferred, has reverted the domain back to them. This does indicate that there was no real dispute once Melbourne IT woke up Monday morning and realized what had happened. Incredibly, Melbourne IT, not a teeny company, has no support available over the weekend. The hijackers may have counted on this fact.

The motivation behind the ICANN rule changes was actually to streamline domain transfers between registrars. Some registrars (cough! Verisign! cough!) had a reputation for sitting on valid requests for transfers to other, almost certainly less-expensive registrars. The new rules create a presumption that the transfer will proceed after some period of time unless it is denied for some valid reason. The registrars still have to contact the owner of the domain, presumably through the whois records.

Next Page: Concern on two fronts.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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