The group that oversees the internet's address system is taking a hard stance against domain name registries that redirect internet users to third-party sites when a non-existent URL is typed.
Earlier this week, the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) said the practice - known as NXDOMAIN substitution and DNS redirection - threatens net stability and deteriorates user experience. In a memorandum (PDF) published Tuesday, ICANN went on to reiterate that all managers of newly created top-level domains would be prohibited from following the practice under draft rules now being considered.
The proposed restriction is aimed at preventing the kind of controversy that was created in 2003 when VeriSign introduced a service that automatically redirected all mistyped addresses ending in .com and .net to a proprietary website. Internet purists howled in protest, arguing that VeriSign's SiteFinder breached time-honored practices for handling mistyped or non-existent addresses. (VeriSign soon dropped the service).
ICANN's prohibition is aimed at managers of so-called registry-class domain names, or RCDNs, better described as the registries that act as the gate keepers for top-level domains such as .com, .info, or .biz.
"Normally if someone wants to make use of a domain, they have to register it (and pay a fee for the right to use it)," ICANN's memo states. "In the case of NXDOMAIN substitution in a RCDN, the registry would be making use (and perhaps profit) from all or a subset of the uninstantiated domains without having registered or paid for them."
It would appear that the prohibition, which was discussed in June during an ICANN meeting in Australia, has no effect on internet service providers and other services that redirect subscribers who type non-existent addresses. Services including Comcast, Verizon, and Virgin have been known to offer such services, often with no warning or easy way for users to turn it off.
Other services, most notably, OpenDNS, have built an entire business off of the practice. What sets this last one against the rest is that it's entirely opt-in. That means users who want to prevent themselves from accidentally ending up at a harmful site because they mistyped a URL have to go through the trouble of configuring their systems to use the service.
VeriSign's SiteFinder, by contrast, didn't. ®