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The developer of the technology used to direct surfers on the Web has announced it is developing a workaround designed to stop users who mistype URLs ending up at VeriSign's new search site.

The Internet Software Consortium, the nonprofit body that develops the ubiquitous BIND domain name server, is adapting its software so that those users who enter mistyped domain names would not automatically end up at VeriSign's Site Finder search engine service, AP reports. The patch could be available as early as today.

DNS servers running the modified version of BIND would recognise - and ignore - wrongly typed addresses that resolve to Site Finder.

The controversy kicked off on Monday, when Verisign added wildcard DNS records to all .com and .net domains - redirecting surfers who get lost on the Net to a search page, called Site Finder, run by the company. Those who type in non-existent addresses will also be served up Site Finder, instead of an error message. Verisign isn't saying how much it expects to make from selling advertising on this site.

Company executive state that the service is primarily designed to helps lost surfers find their way on the Net.

Ben Turner, VeriSign's vice president for naming services, told Wired that Site Finder improved the "overall usability of the Internet."

People mistype ".com" and ".net" names 20 million times daily, Turner said, and internal studies show "the vast majority of users prefer a page like this than what they are getting today."

Critics are having none of this. They argue that the service violates established Internet standards, in particular making it harder to recognise spam that fails to arrive from a legitimate domain.

Others argue that Verisign's move creates a single point of failure. Anybody who broke into the site and uploaded a malicious programme could look forward to compromising machines on a grand scale.

Admittedly much the same could be said of any heavy traffic site. Verisign's move is also not unprecedented - users who mistype URLs in IE are sometimes served up with an MSN search page.

But Verisign, unlike Microsoft, has altered a core Internet system. Its perceived abuse of its role as the custodian of the .com and .net address space has also incensed sysadmins. ®

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