The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) has asked Verisign to suspend its Site Finder service while it conducts an investigation into the system.
Site Finder is a web service that appears when users attempt to reach a website whose domain name does not exist.
Site Finder offers users a search engine, a list of existing domains with related spellings and a directory of websites. To enable the service, Verisign has had to create a wildcard address record so that all attempts to reach sites in the .com and .net address space, except those with valid domain names, result in redirection to Site Finder.
When Verisign launched the service on 15 September, a number of complaints began to emerge, especially from those involved with the technical side of the internet and those operating competing search services. They see it as an attempt to hijack web traffic that would otherwise result in an error message or redirection to a search service of the user's preference.
Icann said that it has been "monitoring community reaction" to the service and is also "carefully reviewing the terms of the .com and .net Registry Agreements".
It also asked its Security and Stability Advisory Committee and the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) to produce a report on the subject which, when issued, noted concerns with the service.
These included the loss of local-language error messages to Verisign's English-language Site Finder; additional load for e-mail servers and the failure of some spam filters that check for valid domain names.
It also noted that users who pay for data based on the volume sent and received will see higher costs as a result a single "domain not found" packet being replaced by the 17kbyte Site Finder home page, and said the system represented a single point of failure and raised privacy concerns.
The IAB report did not conclude that the use of wildcard records, such as those used by Verisign, be prohibited, but rather such a system is "dangerous" and should only be enabled with a full understanding of the impact on the network.
Icann said it has called on VeriSign to suspend the service voluntarily until various reviews are completed.
Martyn Williams writes for IDG News Service