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

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 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.”

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