Wait a second, I thought we stopped doing this back in 2003


It looks like Verizon's default DNS server for their customers is redirecting all failed DNS queries to their own site, calling the feature Advanced Web Search. Fortunately, they have instructions on how to opt out. The short version: Go to your DNS settings and change the last octet from .12 to .14.

Comments (36)
  1. Jon says:

    Charter, Earthlink, and WideOpenWest all do it too if I remember right.

    I don’t think Comcast or SBC/ATT are doing it yet, but its really only a matter of time.

  2. mastmaker says:

    Changing the last octet of DNS is fine if you have static IP address assigned to you. In DHCP situations, it is bad.

    Also, the Verizon’s stupid web page showing up in your browser is the least of the worries (you can block it easily). Think of other applications that can break in the absence of negative DNS response.

  3. Lascaille says:

    The most annoying thing about this, for me, is that typo domains end up in the IE/firefox history so you can easily autocomplete-typo them again… IE/Firefox is clever enough not to add domains to the autocomplete list if they come back as not-found.

  4. …Verisign broke the Internet? No-one ever learns from other people’s experience, it seems (hat tip: The Old New Thing): It looks like Verizon’s default DNS server for their customers is redirecting all failed DNS queries to their own site, calling..

  5. Dan says:

    I noticed this, but oddly it only happens for me on Ubuntu Linux!  On Windows I get a standard DNS error page.  Very odd.  Anyways there’s only a handful of domain names it uses (why use more than one?) so it’s easy to block them with /etc/hosts or %WINDIR%system32driversetchosts

    Also opting out isn’t easy for me since my dad doesn’t care and my own DNS server settings point to my dad’s router.

    So I just use OpenDNS now.

    [Huh? OpenDNS does the same thing. -Raymond]
  6. Dror Snir says:

    …at least for FF. When the autocomplete text comes up, hover over it (using mouse/keyboard) and press "delete". It will be removed from the autocomplete history.

  7. Chris Miller says:

    I tried the link to those instructions and it took me to a generic help page.  It looks like Verizon has taken that page off-line.

    [That’s not a generic help page. It’s a “Oh, you’ve never been to this site before. Tell us which service you have and we’ll redirect you to the right page” landing page. Just pick one (doesn’t seem to matter which). -Raymond]
  8. Craptaculus says:

    Roadrunner (time warner) is now doing the same as well. Type in a bad address and you get a page (after about 5 seconds) with a bunch of ads and search results.  It has a "Why am I here?" link which says:

    "Why am I here?

    You entered an unknown web address that was used to present site suggestions that you may find useful. Clicking any of these suggestions provides you with search results, which may include relevant sponsored links."

    I like how it just mentions the "sponsored links" like it was an after thought, as if that’s not the whole point.

    Luckily, they have a simple opt-out page which must work by client IP, because there’s no login.

  9. I did a big article on this back in 2003, showing how all the SOAP stacks broke:

    http://webservices.xml.com/pub/a/ws/2003/10/28/sitefinder.html?page=1

    It annoys me when ISPs think there is no protocol but HTTP, no client but the browser, and that they should have the right to get the search money.

  10. Stefan says:

    But we /choose/ to use OpenDNS, and I trust them more than Comcast, AT&T, etc. They also give myriad, easily-accessible options for configuring its behavior.

    [Right, but it struck me as strange that somebody said, “To avoid this, I use OpenDNS”. Um, OpenDNS does exactly the same thing! -Raymond]
  11. zzz says:

    While technically not the same, from avg joe perspective IE does that too except to Live Search. And instead of having clearly laid out how you can opt out from address bar search in the live search page they have something like "information for advertising here". It’s possible Verizon just didn’t want MS to get all the $$$ from this.

  12. tsrblke says:

    Charter’s way of "opting out" is both simplier and more complicated at the same time.  It does it by adding a cookie, which takes you to a page that is similar to the default windows DNS, but yet still charter.

  13. Edward_K says:

    You can opt out of OpenDNS’s typo correction, dashboard->settings->typo corrections

    If you have a dynamic IP, you can use a client to update your IP address to them so your preference is remembered.

  14. BryanK says:

    And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I run my own DNS server that uses root hints and recurses for clients, instead of forwarding to any ISP.  :-P

    (Not that that’s a general solution, of course.  I don’t expect most people to be able to set up and maintain a DNS server.  But it does work in my case, against the type of breakage that you get when an ISP starts messing with responses, at least.  It doesn’t work when an authoritative server starts messing with responses, of course, which is what the problem was with Verisign.  But Verizon isn’t the authoritative server for many domains, I don’t think.)

  15. Igor Levicki says:

    BryanK:

    One can setup bind 9.4.0 (or higher) for Windows in no time.

    Don’t you just love this clever message:

    "OpenDNS Guide replaces the confusing and unhelpful dead ends of the Internet – the browser error page."

    Think… wouldn’t it be nice if road didnn’t end at the end of the road?

    Or even better, if your garage suddenly got replaced — "OpenShopping Guide replaces the confusing and unhelpful dead ends of the road – The Garage"

    But this part is just brilliant:

    "Instead of seeing an error when the Web site you’re trying to visit is down, we give you a page full of helpful content."

    So…

    "Instead of letting you park your car now, you will be taken to a randomly chosen shopping mall where you can find all those things you were looking for in your garage."

    :)

  16. Jon says:

    @tsrblke

    Of course that assumes you are using a web browser. My FTP/SSH/SMTP/etc clients do know what cookies are.

    "opting out" is right :(

  17. Karellen says:

    Well, at least it’s just an ISP doing it. As well as the opt-out (which Verisign’s hijacking never had provision for) if you *really* don’t like it you can change your ISP.

    Changing which top level domain servers you use isn’t really viable. (OTOH, does anyone have any actual experience with youcann?)

  18. Ulric says:

    yes.. OpenDNS does the same thing.. in fact it does something that often puzzles me: if the server appears to be down for a while, it takes it over to its own search/information page.  The other day, I turned off OpenDNS after getting this message ("the server appears to be down at the moment, try these related searches.."), and I *could* access the site I meant to, after waiting a few more seconds. Very scary.  Whenever something tries to be too intelligent/helpful..

  19. Guy says:

    I’m using Cox in San Diego, and while using IE I get redirected to a Cox sponsored page with completely irrelevant links. They do offer an opt-out option by downloading a cookie, though you have to dig a little to get to it. When using Firefox though, I just get the usual invalid url screen… No redirecting occurs.

    When redirecting someone’s browsing, the ISP’s should make it an opt-in process. Obviously most people wouldn’t choose it, but if the ISP offered a slight price reduction that might spur people on. This would be justified from the money the ISP brings from advertising on the redirect page.

  20. KTC says:

    Tiscali (in UK) does the same thing as well. And more, it does it like Ulric have experienced with OpenDNS; "if the server appears to be down for a while, it takes it over to its own search / information page".

  21. Diego says:

    Hey raymond,

      Just bought your book, do you have a site for it? or forum? or maybe a post? I’m just loving the reading!

    Very good m8!

    Cheers from Brazil,

    Diego

  22. Stephen Jones says:

    Couldn’t you solve the problem by setting a public DNS server manually?

  23. Lex Mitchell says:

    My new Dell shipped with a browser addin by google called Url Error Redirector that does the same thing (admittedly only for my browser on the client side) by sending you to a Dell themed Google page.

    Pretty annoying thing to have as a default.

  24. Karellen says:

    Lex > Actually, I think this is ideal.

    The client application (i.e. the browser, if you’re browsing the web) is the correct place to make a decision as to what do when a DNS lookup fails.

    Printing "DNS lookup failed", "Server lookup failed", "Unable to find server", or IE’s friendly error page are all valid responses to a lookup failure, but all are probably equally confusing to Aunt Tillie who neither knows nor cares about what DNS is, or why computers actually have IP addresses behind them. She only wants to go a web page that, for example, someone has misspelt in an email.

    Changing the browser so that on a DNS lookup failure it does a web search that has good typo correction for what the user entered (e.g. a Google or Live lookup) is arguably much better for her.

    Providing this as an option you have to find and turn on is something that is never going to be found by Aunt Tillie. Only Jane R. Hacker will find it, but she’ll probably never use it. Switching it on by default means that Aunt Tillie is well served, and Jane R. Hacker is capable of finding the option to turn it off if that’s what she wants.

    You might find it annoying, but it’s a big win in terms of web usability. And it doesn’t break any other application that does DNS lookups.

  25. Jim Lyon says:

    In general for an ISP, each call to tech support costs them the month’s profit for that customer. Call them twice in the same month and they’re losing money on you.

    So, call them and get them to walk you through opting out. (They’ll probably tell you to manually configure your DNS server.) Call them again tomorrow and tell them that their fix broke your connectivity when you’ve taken your laptop somewhere else and are using a different ISP. Call them the next day to have them help you configure your other computer. And so forth.

    Eventually, they’ll figure out that this "feature" costs more in tech support calls than it generates in revenue. At that point, they’ll drop it.

    Don’t try to complain to them about the feature — they won’t care. Your goal isn’t to try to convince them that the feature is evil (they won’t care), but to convince them that it isn’t cost-effective. The best way to do this is to not let them think you’re fighting them at all, but rather to let them think that this feature will generate lots of calls from the semi-clueless.

    For bonus points, call the advertizers too and complain to them. Here, actual complaints work. Your goal with the advertizers is to make it harder for the ISP to sell ads, thereby influsencing their cost-benefit calculations. (But you may want to use a different name with the advertizers than you do with the ISP, lest they compare notes.)

  26. Mikkin says:

    Phone company:  We’re sorry, the number you dialed is not in service at this time. In order to serve you better, we will now play a prerecorded telephone solicitation.

    Post Office:  Undeliverable – No such address. In order to serve you better, we are sending you an assortment of extra junk mail.

  27. David Walker says:

    zzzz:  "from avg joe perspective IE does that too except to Live Search".

    Not for me.  Of course, I have gone into Tools/Options/Advanced and checked "Do not search from the address bar".

    IE gives me a perfectly normal page that says "Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage"

  28. BryanK says:

    Stephen Jones: Yes, that would work — *if* you trust the operators of that public DNS server to never do this themselves.  ;-)

  29. Adam V says:

    So, call them and get them to walk you through opting out. (They’ll probably tell you to manually configure your DNS server.) Call them again tomorrow and tell them that their fix broke your connectivity when you’ve taken your laptop somewhere else and are using a different ISP. Call them the next day to have them help you configure your other computer. And so forth.

    We have to be a bit careful – we’ve reached the age where companies will <a href="http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=sprint+fires+customers">fire their customers</a> if they call customer service too often.

  30. Paul Baker says:

    Raymond’s right (of course), OpenDNS as in opendns.org, does the same thing.

    The DHCP server on the router given to me by my employer to allow VPN Access wants me to use OpenDNS as my DNS server. They say it is because they had temporary problems with their own DNS server when making network changes, but now refuse to undo what was supposed to be a temporary change.

    OpenDNS hijacks DNS errors as well as known IE search URLs. It’s really annoying.

    When I first discovered it, I really thought I had a virus and spent hours troubleshooting it. They just didn’t get the concept that I *know* I don’t have a virus and I *know* it’s not malicious but I don’t want it!

  31. Yuhong Bao says:

    On the matter of things like Advanced Web Search: At least it is better than Site Finder, which was a lot worse because the scope was too broad.

  32. urandom says:

    IIRC MSFT started doing this in IE in 2002. It seemed to have happened overnight that IE users were suddenly redirected to a search page instead of getting the usual error page. There was even an article in the newspaper about it, but no how or why. I think the "fix" was back then to block a couple of IP ranges in the router.

  33. ShadowFlare says:

    As I recall, IE has had the behavior for quite a long time of performing a search when the entered address was inaccessible or did not exist.

    Of course, there is something about what is there that is by design.  It only has the behavior of a "search box" when you do not enter in the part of the URL specifying the protocol to use.  On all versions, as far as I know, if the http:// or other protocol is specified, it will bring up the familar error message when it is not found and absolutely no search results page.

    This brings up a similar point.  When entering incomplete domain names, some browsers (and possibly older IE versions) will attempt accessing domain names with .com, .org, etc. added to the end of what you typed.

    I think I remember older IE versions having this behavior, but I’m unsure (IE7 does not).  If they did have it, it could be bypassed by the above method for not showing the search results.  If IE did indeed do this in an older version, I can think of reasons the feature would have been removed (it has a certain search order and leaving off the ending could yield undesirable results in some circumstances).

    As of this writing, recent versions of at least one other browser do have this potentially undesirable behavior and no way to bypass it.

  34. Some Guy says:

    Well, OpenDNS has a config panel where you can turn this feature off, if it annoys you so much. Actually OpenDNS has a lot of really cool feature, including blocking of pr0n and other things that’s useful with kids in the house…

  35. IEBlog says:

    Hey everyone, Christopher here. It’s been a while since I’ve blogged anything here (over a year in fact).

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