The Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC) of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) which administers domain names has launched a probe into the practice of what it calls domain name "front running". ICANN said that there are widespread suspicions that checks for availability are being monitored and the information used to register desired addresses in order to sell them back to the user at a profit. People who want to buy a domain name usually check its availability first on websites such as whois.net, or through registrar companies. It is at that point that unscrupulous operators may be registering names in order to profit from the demand.
Whilst there is no evidence of how or even if the practice was widespread, ICANN has received sufficient complaints to suggest that the practice may be taking place.
A number of people have reported that they have undertaken a search, found an available name and later returned to register it, to find that it has been registered in the meantime. received complaints.
The name ‘front running’ comes from the world of finance and refers to stockbrokers buying or selling shares after being instructed to take action by a client that will affect the share price. The name has its origins in the American "wild west" and referred to acting on insider information to purchase soon-to-be-valuable land.
SSAC has listed a number of plausible methods that could be used, for example there could be software installed on users’ computers which relays domain queries secretly back to an operator, who then exploits that information or alternatively, any website could host a whois application and abuse the information gathered. It is also possible that registrars and registries themselves could be abusing the query information they receive, or could have staff who do so. The report said that it is unclear which, if any, of these methods are being used. It said that there could be other explanations for users’ finding that checked domains were suddenly registered, for example, mere co-incidence. The committee says it wants to prevent "perception from evolving to accepted wisdom."
According to the report in any given month, over a million domain names can be tested for their potential to be profitable for monetization, and there is a reasonable chance that some of these names may coincide with names that have been subject to some form of a domain name availability check during that month.
The report seeks information about and evidence of domain front running from users and companies, and suggests that the internet community formulate a policy of acceptable practices in relation to domain registration to avoid tarnishing the internet and domain industry’s reputations.
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