Weekly Web Watch: Welcome to the Net, where even your name is not truly your own

You think you own your own name, right? But Nike recently discovered that on the Internet that’s not necessarily so, when its Internet address was ’hijacked.’ People typing www.nike.com into their browser found themselves directed to www.s11.org instead. S11.org is a site set up to coordinate the disparate groups intending to protest or disrupt the World Economic Forum meeting in Melbourne, Australia in September. Remember the tear-gas fest that befell the earlier World Economic Forum meeting in Seattle?

You think you own your own name, right? But Nike recently discovered that on the Internet that’s not necessarily so, when its Internet address was ’hijacked.’ People typing www.nike.com into their browser found themselves directed to www.s11.org instead. S11.org is a site set up to coordinate the disparate groups intending to protest or disrupt the World Economic Forum meeting in Melbourne, Australia in September. Remember the tear-gas fest that befell the earlier World Economic Forum meeting in Seattle?

You think you own your own name, right? But Nike recently

discovered that on the Internet that’s not necessarily so, when its

Internet address was ’hijacked.’ People typing www.nike.com into their

browser found themselves directed to www.s11.org instead. S11.org is a

site set up to coordinate the disparate groups intending to protest or

disrupt the World Economic Forum meeting in Melbourne, Australia in

September. Remember the tear-gas fest that befell the earlier World

Economic Forum meeting in Seattle?



Well, the people behind S11 are aiming to repeat the trick in

Melbourne.



Hijacking an Internet domain name is a good way to attract attention to

a cause. A site like Nike.com attracts millions of visitors each month,

and tens of thousands of them will have been brought face-to-face with

S11 instead. Still, www.s11.org last week sported a prominent disclaimer

saying the site’s organizers had ’no idea how or why the nike.com page

was redirected to s11.org and do not condone this action.’ Still, they

weren’t feeling sorry for Nike, whose factories, they went on to say,

’still use compulsory overtime, humiliating treatment and extreme verbal

abuse against its workers.’



Such domain name hijacking is becoming increasingly common. There have

been at least five well-reported cases so far this year. One of them was

the temporary hijacking of around 1,300 domain names owned by the

Mecklermedia publishing group, which owns the domain name

Internet.com.



The motive is not always the kind of protest action that matched Nike

with S11. Sometimes it’s commercial sabotage or just plain piracy, which

is what appears to have happened in the case of sex.com. A California

court has the task of deciding whether sex.com’s current operator,

Stephen Coles, is liable for the millions in revenue so far lost by its

original owner, Gary Kremen, following what Kremen claims was the

’theft’ of the domain last year.



And sometimes the motive is not at all clear, as in the case of Solid

Oak Software, who found its whoami.com address inexplicably appropriated

by ’someone in Serbia,’ according to company president Brian

Milburn.



What’s more, carrying out such hijackings appears to be disturbingly

easy. Most of them were done simply by fooling Network Solutions, the

biggest of the Internet domain name registrars, by fax or fake e-mail

that the transfer of the domain has in fact been authorized by the

registered owner. A court has already cleared Network Solutions of

liability in these cases because domain names can not be legally

regarded as ’property’ and cannot therefore be stolen.



Domain hijacking is not only embarrassing for a company like Nike, but

it also serves to reinforce the lingering impression that the Internet

is still a wild frontier where nothing is truly safe - even your

name.



That’s just the sort of impression that the people trying to build real

Internet businesses could do without. Unfortunately, such an impression

would be right, at least for as long as there continue to be

well-publicized thefts of credit card details, and as long as Network

Solutions makes it so easy for domain name pirates.



In the meantime, if you’re doing PR for the owner of a high-traffic

site, be prepared for a possible Webjacking, especially if your employer

or client has anything to do whatsoever with the World Economic

Forum.



- Stovin Hayter is editor-in-chief of Revolution. He can be contacted at

stovin.hayter@revolutionmagazine.com.



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