ICANN told to clamp down on dodgy domain names

Lawmaker says Net watchdog is failing to do its job after GAO finds "intentionally false" details in millions of registrations.

More than 8 percent of all Internet domain names are registered with false or incomplete information, according to a U.S. government study into the prevalence of phony Web sites.

The study, released Wednesday by the U.S. General Accountability Office, showed that 2.31 million domain names, or 5.14 percent of all domain registrations, have been registered with information "obviously and intentionally false" (such as a (999) 999-9999 telephone number, the report says). The GAO also found that 1.6 million, or 3.6 percent, contained incomplete data in one or more of the required fields.

The report drew a response from Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property.

"Vendors unwilling to identify themselves publicly are more than likely fraudulent," Smith, a Republican from Texas, said in a statement released Wednesday.

Smith concluded that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the standards body for Internet domain names, is failing to "weed out such fraudulent identifications."

The rise of phishing scams has prompted Congress to investigate. In such fraud schemes, Internet thieves lure consumers to counterfeit Web sites to dupe them out of vital information such as credit card numbers and passwords. Roughly one in four U.S. Internet users have been targets of phishing attacks, according to a study conducted by Time Warner.

Contact information for operators of Web sites is publicly available through the Whois Internet service. Data from Whois could help law enforcement officials track down Internet criminals--provided it's accurate.

The GAO said that ICANN is now requiring registrars to investigate and correct any reported inaccuracies in contact information. The Internet group continues to assess the operation of the registration process and look for ways to improve accuracy, according to the agency's report.

Attempts to reach an ICANN representative were not successful.

This is not the first time ICANN has been called on to monitor the accuracy of its registrations more closely. A study three years ago found that ICANN policies encouraged but did not require registration organizations, such as VeriSign or Go Daddy, to verify information from people who have submitted false information. It recommended that ICANN change those policies.

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