VeriSign defends Site Finder service

Domain registrar VeriSign Inc. defended its now-suspended Site Finder search tool Monday, saying concerns about its effect on the stability of the Internet and on the amount of spam are overblown.

VeriSign, which controls the main database of .com and .net domain names, shut down the Site Finder service Friday, after the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) demanded the company suspend the service. [Please see VeriSign shuts down Site Finder.]

But VeriSign can find no evidence that the service, intended to direct Internet users to a correct Web site when they mistype a URL, is causing security problems, VeriSign officials said. The company is resolving more than 10 billion domain name queries a day, officials said, and the company’s record of providing 100 per cent availability continued after Site Finder launched.

But both ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee and the Internet Architecture Board have preliminarily found stability problems caused by the way Site Finder was implemented, said Mary Hewitt, ICANN’s director of communications.

While VeriSign officials questioned if ICANN was overstepping its bounds by halting the Site Finder service, Hewitt said ICANN will go forward with meeting to examine the complaints about Site Finder.

The service may cause a problem for a small number of spam filters that check to see if inbound e-mail is coming from a legitimate Web address, said Matt Larson, principle engineer with VeriSign’s Naming and Directory Services. But the domain name check isn’t used by most popular spam filters, and it’s just one of many checks a spam filter vendor should use to check for spam, Larson said.

Just three per cent of spam comes from nonexistent domains, Larson added. “This is really a limited issue that we believe some people have made more of than is really there,” he added.

VeriSign launched Site Finder in mid-September after spending several million dollars to develop it, according to company officials. Critics almost immediately voiced several concerns. In addition to concerns about Internet stability and spam, competing companies and some Internet users accused VeriSign of hijacking other Web site search services by leveraging its control over the .com and .net domains. Two companies, Go Daddy Software Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Popular Enterprises LLC of Orlando, Fla., filed lawsuits against VeriSign within days of Site Finder’s launch.

After Site Finder launched, Internet service providers such as America Online could reconfigure their services so subscribers were directed to other Internet search pages when they mistyped an address, VeriSign officials said.

VeriSign officials declined to comment on the lawsuits, but they questioned whether ICANN had the authority to ask the company to suspend the service pending hearings about Site Finder. ICANN is hosting a fact-finding meeting on Site Finder in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, and a second meeting is expected in a couple of weeks.

“We believe the debate is much more about philosophy and approach than it is about security and stability,” said Russell Lewis, executive vice-president and general manager of VeriSign’s Naming and Directory Services. “We do not believe that ICANN…really should be micro-managing these kinds of new services.”

Hewitt said she had no comment on VeriSign questioning the organization’s authority to stop VeriSign from offering Site Finder. But ICANN’s request that VeriSign suspend the service came after many objections from Internet users, she added.

“There was a strongly voiced opposition from the technical community on this,” Hewitt said. “That’s why we’re having this meeting so (VeriSign) can present its information and state its case.”

Eleven other domain name registries have launched similar services without ICANN stepping in, Lewis said, but he declined to comment on what legal action VeriSign could take if ICANN tries to permanently stop VeriSign from offering Site Finder.

ICANN officials have accused VeriSign of giving them little notice before launching the service. Lewis said VeriSign notified ICANN a “few days” before Site Finder launched, and the company continues to pursue a dialogue with ICANN.