Whois Abuse Still Out of Control


It’s still easy to try to steal an identity with false whois information. There are rules against it and ICANN pretends to enforce them, but I personally know that it doesn’t really happen.

How would you react if you found out that someone was trying to impersonate you in order to defraud and the authorities ignored your complaints about it? I’ve been in this position; the authorities are varied and numerous, and they include ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. All of them, including ICANN, let me down.

ICANN has fixed some problems in domain name abuse in recent months. It couldn’t have been easy to put the huge dent in domain tasting that ICANN has put. No doubt VeriSign was unhappy with this, having made zillions on tasting, although it couldn’t protest too publicly. And ICANN could and should have gone farther against tasting, but it went pretty far. But other policy lapses by ICANN have not been addressed.

I have been the owner, for many years now, of the domain larryseltzer.com. Go check the whois on this domain and what you see there is me.

In May of 2007, some person registered larryseltzer.net in order to impersonate me. The person basically didn’t get away with it, but that’s not what matters. I think I know who this person is, but that doesn’t really matter either, because nobody in a position to help is interested in doing so.

Check the whois for larryseltzer.net. Looks a lot like mine. The name is slightly different (instead of “Larry Seltzer” it’s “Larry Seltzer Astroturfing LLC”—ho ho). And the e-mail for the contacts is different. The mailing addresses and phone numbers are the same, and this is an important point.

My identity thief made two uses of this domain to my knowledge. He posted some e-mails to mailing lists, including this one on Full Disclosure. He also contacted eWEEK and tried to get control of the log-on credentials for my blog and to have my Ziff Davis e-mail forwarded to larry@larryseltzer.net. eWEEK didn’t fall for it. As far as I can tell, the impersonation efforts ended around then.

I filed formal complaints with his domain registrar, ruskyhost.ru, an eNom reseller, and with eNom itself. I got no response, not that I expected any (honestly, “ruskyhost”!) I also complained to his hosting service, DreamHost, which also didn’t give a damn.

I then suggested to eWEEK Corporate Counsel that a threatening letter or two might be in order. They never followed up. Thanks, guys. (At the time eWEEK was owned by Ziff Davis Media; it now is owned by Ziff Davis Enterprise, a different company.)

Finally, I also complained to ICANN through a formal process called the WDPR or Whois Data Problem Reporting system. ICANN rules, specifically the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, state that whois information must be accurate and that registrars are obligated to take action when informed of false whois information. The WDPR is a one-stop complaint site for this. Since I don’t own larryseltzer.net and the whois for it has my address and phone number, that information is inaccurate. When I made the complaint back in the Spring of 2007 I got an acknowledgement e-mail for the complaint, and that was the end of it. ICANN ignored me too.

Then on 19th Dec. 2008, ICANN announced that the WDPR system had been revamped and improved and I figured that it was time to give it another shot. Guess what? I got the same acknowledgement e-mail, but weeks later still had received no information about the problem. And in fact the rules for the WDPR state that I won’t necessarily get any contact.

The confirmation e-mail I received when I submitted the complaint says the complaint will be forwarded to the sponsoring registrar of the domain, which will be told to investigate.

If you have reason to believe that the sponsoring registrar may not be fulfilling its obligations, please forward your copy of this e-mail, along with any other relevant information, to ICANN’s Registrar Liaison Contractual Compliance department at registrar-infocompliance@icann.org. ICANN will review your submission and work with the registrar to ensure compliance.

So I forwarded the complaint on to that address and said I hadn’t heard back. The e-mail was kicked back with an unspecific message about the e-mail being undeliverable. I’d just about had enough.

Finally, I decided to go through normal press channels to see if anything more would be done. The ICANN press person, who really is a nice guy and helpful, promptly passed it on to someone who worked in that area and said they would get back to me. Two weeks later and guess what? Nobody got back to me.

My wild guess is that the confirmation, if there really is any at all, goes no further than e-mailing the e-mail addresses on the whois contact, and those do not belong to me. Obviously nobody calls the phone numbers or mails the mailing addresses because I would know about that.

I’ll keep trying to do something about this particular problem, but I won’t go nuts about it. I won’t make the mistake of assuming that there is justice to be had on the Internet. That way lies madness.