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Many give the slip to VeriSign's Site Finder

As legal and political challenges to the domain name redirector mount, Chinese and other overseas network operators take technical steps to bypass the controversial service.

As legal and political challenges to VeriSign's Site Finder domain name redirector mount, Chinese and other overseas network operators have taken technical steps to bypass the controversial service.

Last Friday, VeriSign bowed to public outcry and temporarily pulled the plug on Site Finder, which redirected Internet traffic to nonexistent .com and .net domain names to the company's own advertising site. Even before that step was taken, network administrators had disabled Site Finder for about 9 percent of all Internet users, according to a new study released Monday by Harvard University's Berkman Center for the Internet and Society.

The study used data gathered by Alexa, which makes a browser plug-in that tracks total visits to Web sites, to evaluate which networks had disabled Site Finder to restore normal service. About half of the blocking comes from China, with most of the rest originating in nations such as Greece, Korea and Russia, the study found.

"Some ISPs (Internet service providers) did block Site Finder," said Ben Edelman, a co-author of the report and a student fellow at the Berkman Center. "Outside of the United States, it seems to be particularly common. These folks seem to be unhappy with what VeriSign has been doing."

Edelman said, however, that American companies were not very aggressive in blocking Site Finder. "I don't have a U.S. ISP that was blocking and is currently blocking Site Finder," Edelman said, referring to major ISPs. "I don't have any other U.S. ISPs on the list, which could either be an error--though I don't think so--or big U.S. ISPs were not interested in blocking the service," Edelman said. "It was a little bit of a surprise to us at the very least."

A VeriSign representative said Monday that he needed more time to review the study. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the group that oversees the Internet's domain name system and successfully prodded VeriSign to suspend Site Finder, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In an unprecedented move, ICANN's security and stability advisory committee is holding an emergency meeting Tuesday in Washington, D.C., to discuss Site Finder.

According to the data supplied by Alexa and analyzed by Edelman and Harvard faculty member Jonathan Zittrain, the overall traffic ranking of VeriSign.com jumped from rank 1,559 to rank 19 on the first day of Site Finder's launch, and the site now garners 37 million daily visitors, up tenfold from before Site Finder's introduction. It also shows that MSN's traffic dipped from 237 million to 218 million visitors per day after Site Finder's launch--reflecting less use of Internet Explorer's own domain-name-not-found redirection feature.

VeriSign's new policy is intended to generate more advertising revenue from additional visitors to its network of Web sites. But the change has had the side effect of rewiring a portion of the Internet that software designers always had expected to behave a certain way, snarling antispam mechanisms that check to see if the sender's domain exists, complicating the analysis of network problems, and possibly even polluting search engine results.

In an unusual grassroots movement, some network administrators have adopted technical countermeasures against VeriSign. A typical one has been to install a modified version of BIND, the standard utility used for Internet domain name lookups.