Starhub has quietly introduced a “redirection service” that takes MaxOnline broadband customers to a Yahoo search page if you happen to enter an invalid URL in your browser. Prior to this, you would typically get an error message from your browser telling you that the invalid domain’s server cannot be found.
According to a Starhub FAQ list, the service does not track individual Internet usage patterns. The service “simply redirects queries to non-existing domain names to a useful search results page instead of a cryptic error message page or browser-defined page”. Users can also choose to opt out of the service at a preferences page.
What Starhub is effectively doing is DNS hijacking, a controversial practice that has led to security breaches by hackers. Some ISPs in the United States have had their users open to cross-site scripting attacks due to lax Web programming techniques by some search partners.
In 2003, Verisign also directed users to paid search results, a move which led to an investigation by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
Among its findings, ICANN noted that DNS redirection “disturbed a set of existing services that had been functioning satisfactorily. Names that were mistyped, had lapsed, had been registered but not delegated, or had never been registered in DNS were resolved as if they existed.
“As a consequence, certain e-mail systems, spam filters and other services failed resulting in direct and indirect costs to third parties, either in the form of increased network charges for some classes of users, a reduction in performance, or the creation of work required to compensate for the consequent failure”.