When you think of that perfect domain name and go to find out whether it’s been taken or not, do you ever get the feeling that somebody could be listening in? It’s so difficult to find a domain name these days as pretty much anything that makes sense will display some kind of holding page, or worse, a page full of useless links pretending to be a search engine. If you do find something that makes sense and is available, then you had better register it right away or you could lose it to anyone who might have noticed your query.

The ICANN Security and Stability Advisory Committee have heard people’s concerns on this issue and back in October they released an advisory on what they call Domain Name Front Running. Those of you who are familiar with the financial markets will know the term front running; some form of inside information is used to pre-empt a move in the markets and gain/profit from it. Likewise Domain Name Front Running would entail somebody finding out what domain name you or others are looking for and then registering it in the hope that it will either generate traffic, and therefore revenue, or that you’ll buy it from them at a hyper inflated price later down the line.

So how could people know what domains you’re searching for? A blog entry over at domaintools.com has a couple of ideas:

The worst thing you could do? Try typing the URL in your Internet browser apparently! Non-eXistent Domain (NXD) is the response received from a DNS server when a queried domain name doesn’t exist. The NXD data can be extracted from logs by an ISP and sold on. Many ISP’s sell NXD data to domain name research companies for analysis.

Smaller search engines can often have deals with data-mining firms as this is one way of generating much needed revenue. Don’t type domain names into a search engine, especially if it’s not Google.

Domain name registration companies and unknown/un-trusted whois search providers should be looked at with a suspicious eye. If your ISP is listening in and selling on information, then it’s perfectly plausible that these companies could be too.

It’s worth noting that while the ICANN SSAC are open to the possibility that front running is taking place, they have not yet been able to find hard evidence. The purpose of this advisory is to raise public awareness and encourage anybody who has evidence of such things taking place to come forward with it.

Paranoia or is it a reality? I have to say that I have long had the suspicion that searching for the availability of a domain would start alarm bells ringing somewhere or other. What are your opinions? Does it take place? Is it really a problem? How can it be tackled?