WhoIs On First?

Remember the old Abbott and COSTELLO ROUTINE, "WHO'S ON FIRST?" The confusion that ensued is similar the head scratching that can go one by examining the records in today's WhoIs database, the public record of who owns what domain name. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Wesley Clark folks selling my name to a couple of odd places including the Charlie Rangel organization and the Billionaires for Bush organization. I called both organizations to find out how they might have received my e-mail address and I got zero response from either organization. I guess I should have made one more call because a few days ago, I received a call from the president of a company called The Complete Campaigns LLC, which I had mentioned owned the CharlieRangel.org domain according to the WhoIs lookup. Complete Campaigns creates backend software services for political organizations.

The president took exception with me for mentioning his company in what he perceived was a negative light without calling him first. I told him I had contacted the Charlie Rangel organization and had heard nothing. He went on to tell me that he and his company have nothing to do with the Rangel organization. I then told him that his organization owns the domain name, something which he claimed to be unaware of. He said that the Charlie Rangel group had used their software services at one time and must have registered the name at that time using his company as the owner and administrator. I told him that I would mention that in my next column.

And so I have.

But it got me thinking...

Not knowing that you own and control a domain could potentially be a dangerous thing, for everyone involved. Take Charlie Rangel's group for instance. What if they need to move their servers or use a different ISP? More importantly, it potentially puts Complete Campaigns and their clients at risk for the transgressions of the Rangel organization. If you spend as much time as I do in the WhoIs database and tracking down list owners, you realize pretty fast that there is a whole army of people out there who live to exchange information about who is spamming and what other domains they own. And the people exchanging this information are using it to set up blacklists and blocks on e-mail that comes in from those domains and IP addresses.

As an example: while no one has reported the CharlieRangel.org domain for spam abuse, a quick search on the net reveals that the domain charlierangel.org (which is still listed as owned by Complete Campaigns, by the way) seems to resolve to the following IP address: 209.249.147.221 and that IP address has been blocked by a number of ISP's because it is also host to a number of suspected spammers. It is just like sex: when you sleep with someone, you sleep with everyone that person has ever slept with. So it pays to know who you are jumping in bed with.

This is the reason many high-volume e-mails like Datran Media use so many domains with different owners, addresses, and phone numbers in the WhoIs look-ups and why they use so many different postal addresses in their e-mail offers. It is also the reason that services like Domains By Proxie, which hides the identity of the domain owner are so popular with high-volume e-mailers.

Confusion surrounding attempts to track down the real owner of some of these WhoIs look-ups can begin to seem like an Abbott and Costello routine: WhoIs on first? No WhoIs on Second?

If you really search around, you can start to put together the pieces of who actually owns all these dispirit domain names, but it takes work. I was finally able to identify a couple dozen different domain names belonging to the same company because while they used different P.O. boxes in their WhoIs look-up, they always used the same name as the administrative contact. Connecting the dots is only half the battle, since the true owner may still remain a mystery. All you know is that Domains A, B, and C are connected, but connected to whom? On days I finally get the answers, it's like unearthing the Rosetta stone... or, on second thought, maybe I just need to start getting out more.

Recommend (3) Print RSS