VeriSign Suspends its Redirect Service

UPDATE: VeriSign knuckled under to pressure from several recent lawsuits and halted its SiteFinder redirection service. For the moment.

VeriSign on Friday suspended its controversial service that redirected mistyped or unregistered domain names after the body overseeing Web addressing took its toughest stance yet against it.

VeriSign officials told that the suspension would be temporary as it works with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and technical community that have raised concerns that the SiteFinder service was disrupting the way .com and .net domain names function on the Internet.

ICANN on Friday had demanded that VeriSign suspend the service, its harshest action since SiteFinder launched on Sept. 15. ICANN threatened to take enforcement action if VeriSign didnt suspend SiteFinder by 6 p.m. PDT Saturday. VeriSign had rebuffed earlier calls from ICANN to suspend the service.

"Were pleased that they have decided to suspend the service, and now it gives an opportunity for a more in-depth review of the wildcard and its implications," said ICANN spokeswoman Mary Hewitt, referring to the technical process used in the service.

Earlier in the day, ICANN President and CEO Paul Twomey wrote in a letter to VeriSign that SiteFinder appeared to have caused "a substantial adverse effect" on the operation of the Domain Name System (DNS) and the stability of the Internet. The effect was inconsistent with the agreements ICANN has with VeriSign, the registry of the .com and .net domains, he wrote.

While suspending the service, VeriSign disputed that SiteFinder was hurting the stability of the DNS and had terse words for ICANNs actions.

"During the more than two weeks that SiteFinder has been operational, there is no data to indicate that the core operation of the Domain Name System or stability of the Internet has been adversely affected," said spokesman Tom Galvin, reading from a statement. "ICANN is using anecdotal and isolated issues to attempt to regulate non-registry services, but in the interest of further working with the technical community, we will temporarily suspend SiteFinder."

VeriSign had faced a rising chorus of criticism over SiteFinder because the redirects operate at a core level of the DNS. Along with ICANN, the Internet Architecture Board, ISPs, registrars and others raised concerns because VeriSign servers no longer returned error messages, such as the "Page Not Found" errors on Web browsers, for mistyped or nonexistent domain names.

Where a query to the DNS with an incorrect or nonexistent domain name used to return an error message, SiteFinder stopped those error messages since those queries were redirected to the servers running the site. That change interrupted other applications and services relying on error messages, such as some spam software, e-mail and lookup services.

SiteFinder also rankled competitors and led to three lawsuits, including a class action filed last week.

"VeriSign … occupies a critical position of public trust, made even more important given the fact that it is the steward of the two largest generic top level domains," Twomey wrote in his letter. "This means that VeriSign has both a legal and a practical obligation to be responsible in its actions in operating those top level domains."

An ICANN advisory committee previously reported that the service was undermining the Internets stability. The Security and Stability Advisory Committee still plans on holding a public meeting on Tuesday in Washington to address the issues raised by SiteFinder.

VeriSigns suspension of SiteFinder requires an investigation into the need for broader changes both in policies for the DNS and its architecture, said Steve Crocker, chair of the ICANN committee.

"Its simply not the case that because VeriSign says it has rolled things back that it changes the onus on us at all," he said. "What happens if someone else does this, what are vulnerabilities in the system and from that what kind of rules and guidelines need to be in place?"

Galvin said that VeriSign stands behind its right to launch the service and said it has helped lost Web surfers with it. SiteFinder has drawn 40 million click-throughs from visitors to it, he said.

"The next several weeks will be a test as to whether innovation will occur within the Internet infrastructure," he said. "The fact is that the whole Internet has been used for innovative purposes in the last decade, but the core infrastructure has suffered from a lack of innovation."

The issue isnt likely to be solved quickly. Twomey also called on the Generic Names Supporting Organization, an ICANN policy group for top-level domain names, to develop by Jan. 15 procedures for the introduction of changes or new services by registries such as VeriSign that operate those domains.

Editors note: This story has been updated since its original posting to include discussion from both parties and more detail from documents and interviews.

Discuss this in the eWEEK forum.