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VeriSign Responds (Publicly) to SiteFinder Outcry

VeriSign executives came out Tuesday explaining to the public its support for the controversial SiteFinder service and insistence it is a benefit to end users.

The public statement is a followup to a rather terse open letter sent to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) Monday afternoon, saying it was "premature" to turn off the service despite its widespread legal, privacy and technical issues.

The SiteFinder service is essentially a redirect service for end users who mis-spell a Web site address or email address. In the past, a "Page Not Found" or email bounce from the sender's ISP would have been the result.

Instead errors go to VeriSign's SiteFinder Web page, a click-per-view search engine that programmers claim gathers personal information. In addition, the protocol governing how email and Web site mis-spells are handled has thrown a monkey wrench into the machines of network administrators worldwide.

Since SiteFinder went into effect Sept. 15 at 8 p.m. EST, VeriSign claims it has been seen by more than 65 million users, 11 million of which actually used the search engine. Officials said they get five million unique visitors a day.

Suddenly, VeriSign is on par with major online portals like Yahoo! , AOL and MSN . According to a CircleID.com report by Benjamin Edelman, a researcher at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, VeriSign's Web traffic ranking soared from 1,559 to 19 since SiteFinder was instituted.

VeriSign is gratified that millions of Internet users have found SiteFinder a helpful service to improve Web navigation," said Russell Lewis, VeriSign executive vice president of the naming and directory services group in the Tuesday statement. "We are committed to working with the Internet community to ensure the smoothest implementation of the service."

Lewis reiterated his open letter to ICANN, saying the company plans to work closely with the organization, through ICANNs technical review committee, to "enhance its new service to best meet the needs of the Internet community on an ongoing basis."

No mention was made in the announcement about the problems encountered by the many network administrators who have been scrambling to fix protocol problems raised by the DNS wildcard, which affected not only email and Web site handling, but in many cases spam filters that look for bogus domain names. With the DNS wildcard, there's no such thing as a bogus domain name, because all error queries go right to SiteFinder, which is technically a "good" email address in the eyes of spam filters.

It's created enough havoc for one company to prompt the owner to boycott VeriSign, although there's not much to be done, since VeriSign handles the database for all .com and .net domain names.

Hilton Head Island, S.C.-based MAE Data Systems, Inc., said given VeriSign's "irresponsibility," it would "no longer provide, implement or support the use digital certificates or domains issued by VeriSign, Network Solutions or Thawte, due to recent irresponsible actions by VeriSign which present serious ethics concerns of their role in the management and maintenance of the root TLD servers for .com and .net domains. VeriSign, having been advised by ICANN of the negative effects of such a proposal, has violated the public trust in the worst way. It is our position that any digital certificate is only as trustworthy as the company who issues it."