ICANN roundly condemns VeriSign's Site Finder

After a lengthy investigation, an ICANN committee has confirmed that VeriSign was wrong to bring in a service that overrode the standard DNS failure message

ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has reiterated its opposition to VeriSign's bid to add controversial new features to .com and .net addresses.

In a report issued last Friday, ICANN claimed that VeriSign's Site Finder service was guilty of violating "fundamental architectural principles", and posed a threat to the Internet community.

Site Finder takes surfers who try to visit a Web address ending in .com or .net that hasn't been registered -- perhaps because they typed a genuine address incorrectly, or the domain name registration had expired, or never existed at all -- and redirects them to VeriSign's own site.

This meant that VeriSign had effectively taken control of all unassigned .com and .net domain names, and was replacing the standard DNS resolution failure message.

Site Finder was introduced in September 2003, but VeriSign was forced to withdraw it in October 2003 after complaints from some network administrators and software developers who said it was disruptive. These complaints culminated in ICANN demanding that the service be suspended.

ICANN's Security and Stability Advisory Committee has spent the last nine months investigating the issue, and is now satisfied that Site Finder should not be allowed.

"VeriSign's actions did not have network-shattering effects but did violate fundamental architectural principles and well-established codes of conduct and good practice intended to ensure stability," said ICANN in its report.

"Users' decisions and control were pre-empted and users were potentially subjected to violations of their privacy. Local responses, patches and work-arounds reduced overall coherence. Services that had been functioning satisfactorily were disturbed and the direct and indirect costs of these disruptions were imposed on third parties," it added.

VeriSign did not immediately respond to requests for comment. According to reports, the company has criticised ICANN for taking nine months to produce a report which it claims doesn't substantiate its case against Site Finder.

Back in October 2003, VeriSign claimed that Site Finder "has been well received by millions of Internet users who appreciate getting navigation tools as opposed to the 'dead end' of an error message."

One domain name registration company told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that ICANN should be applauded for taking on VeriSign over Site Finder.

"It's hard not to have the view that VeriSign was somewhat arrogant in its initial implementation of Site Finder," said Jonathan Robinson, director of business development at NetNames, who said that the service was brought in without sufficient consultation or warning.

"It's good to see ICANN standing up for something and showing some teeth," Robinson added.

VeriSign is currently pursuing an antitrust case against ICANN, claiming that the Internet regulator has transformed itself over the last six years from a modest technical coordinating body into the de facto regulator of the domain name system. The furore over Site Finder is a key plank in this case.

With this case still ongoing, it might be premature to wave goodbye to Site Finder just yet.

"VeriSign is very tenacious. It won't give up easily," said Robinson.

CNET News.com's Declan McCullagh contributed to this report