Verisign wins Internet Villain award

VeriSign disappointed last night by failing to turn up to the ISPAs to collect its award for Internet Villain. The year's Internet Hero, however, was there

VeriSign won the most unwanted award on the IT industry's calendar for 2004, after snapping up Internet Villain at this year's ISPAs.

Meanwhile, as predicted by ZDNet UK, Steve Linford of Spamhaus walked away with the award for Internet Hero. Spamhaus is an organisation that tracks the Internet's worst spammers, and has been among critics of UK spam laws. Linford was nominated "for educating people about spam, endeavouring to thwart spammers, and urging the US to reject the opt-out approach to spam legislation," said ISPA.

VeriSign won the award for "their presumption that they own the Internet and for the domain name system hijacking scandal".

In contrast to Linford's appearance and in what has become something of a tradition at the ISPAs -- broken only last year by 2003 Internet Hero nominee Simon Watkin of the Home Office, who picked up the Villain award for his department -- nobody from VeriSign was present.

Instead, a person dressed as a thief, complete with black- and white-striped jumper, a facemask and a bag marked "swag", was despatched to pick up cards from tables. "It's VeriSign stealing domain names", explained master of ceremonies Simon Amstell from Channel 4's Popworld, when it became apparent that an explanation was necessary: "That's the joke". As the audience caught on, Amstell added: "I was told not to worry, that you'd all find this hilarious. The Internet people, they said, will think this is as funny as The Office. Well, that was some crazy shit there."

Although VeriSign has sold its Network Solutions domain registration business -- for roughly $100m (£60m) -- the company retains control over the database that directs people to .com and .net addresses and has kept a 15 percent equity stake in Network Solutions.

VeriSign said it would not part with the .com and .net database it operates, which it acquired through its $21bn buyout of an independent company called Network Solutions three years ago. That company consisted of two businesses -- a registrar, which sells Internet addresses, and a registry, which directs people to Web sites.

The registrar business has become essentially a commodity service, and VeriSign is no longer interested in that. But it is keeping the registry, now called VeriSign Naming and Directory Services, which operates in a field where the company still has a relative monopoly. The registry business, according to VeriSign, is the backbone of a global .com and .net domain name infrastructure that handles over 10 billion interactions per day.

Last October, VeriSign found itself mired in controversy over its Site Finder service, which redirects all misspelled or unassigned .com domain names to a search page it manages.

Nobody from VeriSign could immediately be contacted for comment.