Network Solutions accused of privacy breach

The company that runs the .com, .org and .net top level domains is guilty of forwarding private e-mails to others who sent in help requests, say customers
Written by Robert Lemos, Contributor

Customers of domain name registrar Network Solutions complained this week that private e-mail sent to the company's support department was being forwarded to others who had sent in requests for help.

One e-mail seen by CNET News.com included an attachment that contained more than 200 private messages.

"My initial reaction: It's a security breach," said Jim Harris, a network administrator for the Harris Group (no relation to the founder).

Harris has been sending e-mail to Network Solutions for several months in an effort to change his e-mail contact information on his personal Web site. Harris said that the first time he sent a message, he heard nothing for two weeks. Then he got about 30 replies -- in the form of about 30 other people's messages to customer support.

"At this point, I'm really glad that I am not relying on them for any business," he said. "If this was a Web site for a customer I consult for, I would really be mad."

A Network Solutions representative blamed the mix-up on "human error."

"In terms of this going out, that was a human error," said spokesman Patrick Burns, referring to the attachment viewed by CNET News.com. Burns said messages coming into customer support are separated into batches that are dealt with by different support people. He said one of the workers had somehow managed to copy a number of the e-mails from his or her batch and send them out as an attachment.

"As we get e-mails from customers, they are divided into queues. What (the support person) did was grab part of his work queue and send that out," he said.

But that explanation doesn't illuminate the 30 or so e-mails individually forwarded to Harris. And several of the e-mails in the attachment forwarded to CNET News.com indicated that customers had previously received a similar collection of messages. This would seem to rule out a one-time error.

Burns offered no further explanation.

Paul Millman, chief executive of video-streaming service provider Streamville.com, has also fallen victim to the flaw.

For more than six months, the New York-based company has been trying to change its contact information, but with no luck.

"I never got anything accomplished," said Millman. "It is not a major issue. It just means that the contact info for our site is not totally correct."

When an attachment containing several hundred e-mail messages popped up in his in-box, Millman felt that something needed to be done.

"If I got the e-mail, who else got the e-mail?" he said. "Also, people -- out of frustration -- wrote personal details, and it just wasn't right that those comments were being forwarded."

Millman called Network Solutions support but could not make the problem understood to the person on the other end, he said. After being kept on hold for 30 minutes, he gave up.

Network Solutions' Burns said that sometimes customers fall through the support cracks.

"One thing we are trying to do is protect the customers and make sure that they don't lose the e-mail addresses," he said. "That makes it take longer. Otherwise people can mess with other people's account, and then it's really bad."

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