Users should take care when typing domain names into their browsers. Americaoffline, through an individual named Zvieli Fisher, has registered more than 256 individual domain names, the majority of which are common misspellings of more well-known sites, according to Internic domain registration records. The domains are primarily FTP or Telnet sites designed to look like the correct sites when accessed.
"They have what appears to be a real FTP server and a real Telnet server, so that people attaching to those domain names with the misspelling see what they expect to see. So they cheerfully deliver the log in and password," says Darryl Baker, senior system engineer at Concentric Network, a telecommunications service company in Cupertino, California, who first noticed the Americaoffline domains.
Several companies whose domain names have been closely imitated, including BellSouth, Microsoft, and EarthLink Networks, have already sent cease and desist orders to the company and have demanded the Americaoffline domains be removed by Internic.
"We were aware of this gentleman in [Los Angeles]; we have sent him a demand letter asking him to cut it out," says Bill McCloskey, director of media at BellSouth, in Atlanta. "We will go to Internic and ask them to pull him down as well under their identicality policy. We contend that a typo misspelling is indeed an identical reproduction of BellSouth's name. Just because it got misspelled doesn't change that fact. We are going to enforce our rights as quickly as possible."
"We have also sent a cease and desist letter," says Steve Dougherty, director of Internet operations at EarthLink Network, in Pasadena. "We always urge people to be somewhat cautious on the Internet."
Fisher was unreachable by InfoWorld after several attempts, but Tim Laren, the technical contact for Americaoffline at Instanet, the company's ISP, insists the company was conducting statistical studies of the frequency of connections to misspelled domain names.
"They're collecting statistics on misspellings," Laren says. "You know there's a lot of people out there, doing a lot of stuff, and that doesn't mean you understand what's going on."
Laren's comments have not persuaded the ISPs to drop their claims.
"The importance to us is the importance of the BellSouth brand name, and we don't allow others to use it. It is ours," McCloskey says.
Meanwhile, Baker is ensuring Concentric customers will not be accessed by Americaoffline's server regardless of that company's intentions.
"I haven't seen them publish any statistics, or offer statistics as a salable item," Baker says. "I don't know what their game is, but I would actually say let's make their statistics invalid by not receiving information from them."
Americaoffline, in Los Angeles, is at http://www.americaoffline.com.