The Internet Architecture Board, which oversees the internet's standard-setting bodies, this weekend criticized as "a violation of the DNS protocol" a service VeriSign Inc recently introduced to help web users use non-English letters in domain names,writes Kevin Murphy
In a letter to the Internet Corp for Assigned Names and Numbers, the IAB said: "The IAB feels that the system VeriSign had deployed for .com and .net contains significant DNS protocol errors, risks the further development of secure DNS, and confuses the resolution mechanisms of the DNS with application-based search systems."
Since last year, VeriSign has been distributing an Internet Explorer plug-in that allows users of languages that contain non-ASCII characters to access web sites in their own character sets. The plug-in, i-Nav, locally encodes international characters into ASCII, so URLs are compatible with the DNS before being submitted for resolution.
To spur uptake of i-Nav, the company configured the DNS servers for .com and .net to reply to some erroneous domain lookups with the IP address of a VeriSign web site, as opposed to an error message. It was believed to be the first time a domain registry operator deviated from the standards to talk directly to the end user.
"We've been in discussions with the IAB and think of this as a constructive part of the process," VeriSign spokesperson Brian O'Shaughnessy said. He added that VeriSign is in the process of preparing comments to submit to ICANN, and to comment on the specifics of the IAB's statement would be inappropriate.
The changes VeriSign made basically introduce an element of guesswork into domain resolution. The system guesses that the user is looking for an internationalized domain name (IDN) and presents them with a way to access it. But the system is not 100% accurate.
"At the core of all of the IAB's concerns is the architectural principle that the DNS is a lookup service which must behave in an interoperable, predictable way at all levels of the DNS hierarchy," the IAB wrote. "The DNS is not a search service."
As VeriSign's reconfiguration of the top-level domain servers is unprecedented, so it is not currently clear what, if any, powers ICANN has relating to this kind of service, should it determine that it jeopardizes the technical stability of the internet.
The IAB, which supervises the work of the Internet Engineering Task Force on its development of internet standards, is chaired by Leslie Daigle, who is employed as director of directory research at VeriSign. Daigle is said to have acted as a "mediator" on the IDN issue, without passing judgment either way.