NSI accused of front running

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Domain Name News reports that Network Solutions is engaging in front running of domain names—when a user uses WHOIS to check on the availability of the name, NSI grabs the domain:
A story is developing regarding domain name registrar Network Solutions front running domains. According to multiple sources on DomainState.com, it appears that domains searched via NSI are being purchased by the registrar thereby preventing a registrant from purchasing it at any other registrar other than NSI. As an example, a random domain which DNN searches such as HowDoesThisDomainTasteTaste.com can be seen in this whois search to now be unavailable to register at other registrars but at NSI it can be purchased

The whois contact now says :

    Registrant: Make this info private
    This Domain is available at NetworkSolutions.com
    13681 Sunrise Valley Drive, Suite 300
    HERNDON, VA 20171

The domains are likely being purchased and held in NSI ownership until the potential registrant comes back to purchase the name through NSI. If the purchase is not made at NSI within 5 days, NSI uses the same 5 day grace period that domain tasting operations use and they delete the domain. Once a search for a domain is conducted at NSI the domain name is registered and only available to be purchased by a registrant at NSI. It is not clear if NSI has increased prices on domains that have received multiple whois searches and that they are front running.

Obviously, even if NSI isn't increasing prices, customers don't really want to be locked into NSI. NSI's defense? They're doing it to protect customers:

"I'd like to clarify what we are doing. In response to customer concerns about Domain Name Front Running (domains being registered by someone else just after they have conducted a domain name search), we have implemented a security measure to protect our customers. The measure will kick in when a customer searches for an available domain name at our website, but decides not to purchase the name immediately after conducting the search.

After the search ends, we will put the domain name on reserve. During this reservation period, the name is not active and we do not monetize the traffic on these domains. If a customer searches for the domain again during the next 4 days at networksolutions.com, the domain will be available to register. If the domain name is not purchased within 4 days, it will be released back to the registry and will be generally available for registration.

This protection measure provides our customers the opportunity to register domains they have previously searched without the fear that the name will be already taken through Front Running.

You are correct that we are trying to take an arrow out of the quiver of the tasters. As you know, domain tasters are the largest Front Runners. Due to no fault of registrars, Front Runners purchase search data from Internet Service Providers and/or registries and then taste those names. Some folks may not agree with our approach, but we are trying to prevent this malicious activity from impacting our customers."

I don't really understand how this is a defense against front running. Say that I search for example.com and I find it's not taken but I decide not to purchase it. Someone else is monitoring that whois and decides to purchase the name. WHOIS is unauthenticated, so they can buy it just as well as I can, they just have to go through NSI. I see how this is to NSI's benefit, but how is it to mine? I suppose one could argue that NSI is more expensive than other registrars, so forcing them to go through NSI sort of deters attackers, but that seems like a pretty crude instrument. Other than that, I don't see that this is a useful safeguard.


The defense is that the tasters don't get the 5 day grace period -- only NSI does. So they can't register thousands of domains for 5 days (without yet paying), and then see how much traffic each domain receives before deciding which to let lapse within the 5 day window, and which to complete the registration on.

I still think what NSI is doing is not right, but I understand their argument.

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