Not Masters of Their Domain: Google.de Snatched by Cyber-Squatters
Google is searching for answers after its German domain name gets temporarily stolen.
Visitors to the German site of the popular Internet search engine Google were mystified when they typed the address www.google.de into their browsers in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Instead of the familiar stripped-down Google home page, they saw a page with a message in German reading "No content has been provided for this domain," together with the logo of the German Internet service provider (ISP) Goneo.
Visitors to Google.de on Tuesday morning met with an unfamiliar sight. (Screenshot: Oliver Mengedoht)
Google officials were initially unsure how their German domain name had gotten transferred to another owner. Keuchel emphasized that it was not a hacker attack, adding that Google was investigating what had happened.
Later on Tuesday it transpired that the transfer had been the result of a malicious ruse by unknown persons, who took advantage of a loophole in German domain name regulations.
"One of our customers ordered the domain name google.de from us on Jan. 13," Goneo managing director Marc Keilwerth told SPIEGEL ONLINE. The order was processed completely automatically, he said: "Nobody actually looks at the orders." The customer had claimed to be the owner of google.de, he said.
The order was then forwarded to Denic, the firm responsible for administering the .de country code domain. It then sent a transfer request to the google.de Internet service provider. The ISP had apparently neglected to reject the request, as it should have done in order to prevent the "kidnapping."
In Germany, if the old domain name provider does not reject the transfer request, the transfer is automatically carried out after a few days -- even if the owner did not ask for it. "This procedure is very controversial," Keilwerth said. "This only happens with the .de domains." In the past, the domain name ebay.de had been temporarily "stolen" from the popular auction Web site by the same means.
The transfer of google.de to Goneo took place at 7:33 p.m. on Monday evening. However the change only became effective around 11 p.m., when the server data was updated.
"We suddenly started getting a whole lot of e-mails from people who thought we had hacked their computers, because they were suddenly getting a Goneo banner instead of Google.de as their browser home page," Keilwerth said.
Goneo immediately informed Denic about the "kidnapping." However they reportedly reacted by transferring the domain to another German provider, Favo, in a second case of domain theft. "Probably two transfer requests for google.de were running in parallel," Keilwerth said. In any case, a hack was definitely ruled out, he said.
In the meantime, both transfers have been cancelled. Later on Tuesday, Google Inc. of Mountain View, California was once again listed as the owners of the domain name google.de in Denic's domain database. Normal traffic to Google.de has resumed.
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