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Archive for August 2011

Virgin Media DNS hijacking for profit?

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Virgin Media DNS Hijacking for direct profit?Overall I’ve been happy with my ISP, Virgin Media. A few teething problems with the so called superhub but nothing a techie geek couldn’t handle.

I usually use google chrome as my browser of choice but today I was using firefox for a change. I’m used to using the address bar to perform normal searches.

The BIG news ….. I just tried to search for ‘hotelopia’ by typing that name into my firefox address bar. I was silently redirected to:

http://www.hotelopia.com/home.aspx?P_PARTNER_ID=5&idMarket=1&utm_source=CJ&utm_medium=affiliates&utm_campaign=Text_Link&AFN=CJ

YIKES! I can’t believe Virgin Media just stuffed a commission junction cookie on me. I was so shocked I decided to try again. I typed ‘alpharooms’ into the address bar and received an error page that looked like this:

http://http//www.awin1.com/awclick.php?mid=984&id=72311&clickref=114

Guess what that is? It’s a failed redirect via affiliate window to alpharooms.com.

Cookie Stuffing

For the uninitiated …

Cookie stuffing occurs when a user visits a website, and as a result of that visit receives a third-party cookie from an entirely different website (the target affiliate website), usually without the user being aware of it. When (if) the user visits the target website and completes a qualifying transaction, the cookie stuffer is paid a commission. See wikipedia.

The difference here is that my ISP virgin media is taking my failed search to:

http://advancedsearch.virginmedia.com/assist.php?url=alpharooms (goes via affiliate window)

http://advancedsearch.virginmedia.com/assist.php?url=hotelopia (goes via commission junction)

http://advancedsearch.virginmedia.com/assist.php?url=expedia (goes via tradedoubler)

which attempts to redirect me to the various sites having stuffed an unwanted cookie from an affiliate network into my browser. If I book a hotel, they get a commission.

I know about this because I earn my living this way. My hotel website uses these techniques to legitimately direct users to accommodation suppliers when performing an accommodation search.

DNS Hijacking

According to wikipedia ICANN, the international body responsible for administering toplevel domain names, has published a memorandum highlighting its concerns, and affirming:”ICANN strongly discourages the use of DNS redirection, wildcards, synthesized responses and any other form of NXDOMAIN substitution in existing gTLDs, ccTLDs and any other level in the DNS tree for registry-class domain names.”

But this does not mention the use of affiliate cookies. Is it really possible that Virgin Media is really attempting to drop cookies on their customers browsers when those customers search for specific companies or could it be a corrupt employee?

Matt Cutts of google recently tweeted about a similar case in the US but even that did not go as far as dropping cookies.

Either way Virgin Media seriously need to get it’s house in order and be held to account.¬†Any ISP is in a position of trust and as such they should uphold high standards of privacy and decency.

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Written by barnabyfry

August 20, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Posted in SEO