Tiscali: breaking DNS for fun and profit
Ghosts of typo hijacking past
Tiscali is hijacking mistyped URLs to serve to its customers sponsored links.
The ISP started rerouting DNS errors to a page plastered with advertising yesterday. An irate customer has started a thread on the firm's forums criticising Tiscali allowing a third party to pump ads for ringtones and dating sites.
Tiscali: helping you on your journey
A company rep, "Mr Tibbs" (who we last met during Tiscali's marathon email debacle earlier this year), replied that the ads (pictured) were "aimed at helping the customer on his/her journey rather than getting an error page."
The customer writes: "I urge you to withdraw the service. Meanwhile, enjoy the bad publicity, and enjoy running a business based on a pathetic, seedy business model that was proven not to work back in the 1990s."
In response, Mr Tibbs, says the "service" will be opt-out, but does not provide details.
Tiscali is not the first to attempt to squeeze more cash out of internet users this way. Verisign invoked the ire of the top level domain regulator ICANN when it attempted something similar in 2003. Verisign quickly bowed to ICANN's pressure and abandoned the system.
Despite this, Orange tentatively began gauging 2007 surfers' reaction to hijacking in April.
Hijacking error pages in this way causes a host of problems for users, and is in contravention of Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) standards. The Internet Architecture Board has a commentary here here, and Tiscali's angry customer lists a few of the practicalities in a second post to the thread.
We are waiting for more comment from Tiscali.
Expert web users will be able to circumvent Tiscali's error hijacking by using a third party DNS list, such as OpenDNS. It's relatively simple to do and has no effect on your broadband contract, so plenty of Tiscali's 1.4 million subscribers should be able to vote with their feet.®
OpenDNS got a write-up in the New York Times this week. It works similarly to Verisign's 2003 hijack operation, and it serves adverts.
However, unlike Verisign's wheeze, which had free rein over the .com and .net top level domains controlled by the firm, OpenDNS is voluntary, and has a much bigger web address cache than ISPs. So is more likely to find what you were looking for than serve you a ringtone ad.
It's not the end of the world
I got the Tiscali DNS error page when I was surfing late last night. I fired off an email using the "Contact Us" form (why dial an 0870 number?) and received an apology at 09:53 this morning - i.e. Saturday. I have checked and indeed the page has gone. Since Microsoft hijacks the DNS error page anyway in IE unless you disable this feature, what Tiscali did was meely mildly annoying.
For the record, Tiscali's reliability and speed has been very satisfactory these past few months after a shaky start. And no, I don't work for them.
It's all for the good of the country
"We are doing this by removing those irritating dead-end 'Page Cannot Be Displayed' messages that you see from time to time."
Mr Flibble, have you actually tried using this service? The search engine is pisspoor and returns five sponsored links per query. How is that supposed to get anyone to where they're going?
Tiscali's mewling rhetoric that this is to aid customers is laughable. Without removing all DNS search suffixes many DNS queries simply fail (or succeed depending on which way you look at iy) when the first one is matched, regardless of whether it really exists or not.
You broke my internets and I wanna new one!
Talk Talk are doing it too
Tiscali aren't the only bunch of pillocks doing it.
Talk Talk have a similar setup in place.