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Comcast Goes Live With DNS Hijacked Advertising
Comcast calls it "Domain Helper"

 1:10 am on Aug 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

[edit]NOTE: Comcast is not just targeting Firefox. There was a technical issue that caused me to initially jump to that conclusion which is discussed fully later in this thread.[/edit]

Comcast is currently targeting Firefox users in the SF Bay Area with DNS Hijacking [arstechnica.com], or "Domain Helper" as they call it, and showing pages of advertisments when inactive domains are accessed.

The new product, which has been tested in trial markets since July 9, redirects nonexistent URLs like www.example.com/clinteckergoatbonedbyhisnewbicycle to a search page slathered in advertising instead of returning the proper DNS error to the browser. Readers began reporting the change to us yesterday.

Just happened to me today for the first time so I thought I'd report it since it has gone live. This whole mess scared me at first because I just upgraded to the latest FF 3.5, perfect timing with a new FF release, and thought maybe it was a new "feature" and I couldn't find any way to disable it. Tested on a couple of machines with both FF 3.0 and FF 3.5, same results, no change for MSIE 7.

So I go check example.com [search2.comcast.com] to see what happens and we got ads, which is amusing because example.com technically responds with the following:
You have reached this web page by typing "example.com", "example.net", or "example.org" into your web browser.

These domain names are reserved for use in documentation and are not available for registration. See RFC 2606, Section 3.

If you simply change your user agent to be MSIE 7 the "Domain Helper" behavior stops.

Just to see how much hijacking is going on, I tried CURL from my desktop command line to access a non-existent domain and got the proper error:
curl: (6) Could not resolve host: example333.com; No data record of requested type

So Comcast is definitely targeting just the smaller, yet substantial subset, of Firefox users for this test.

This will most likely interfere with any Firefox plug-ins that link check your bookmarks or anything of this nature.

Gee thanks Comcast.

[edited by: incrediBILL at 4:57 pm (utc) on Aug. 6, 2009]



 4:51 pm on Aug 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

Give those unique use cases, you should opt-out IMHO

I'm not sure how bookmark/favorite checkers are unique cases.

Everyone has bookmarks/favorites and there are bunches of programs out there for every browser to validate these lists and the programs wouldn't exist if there wasn't any demand.

Also, anyone running a website or even writing a blog, which is nearly everyone these days, tends to run software like XENU link checker to make sure all the links on their pages are OK.

Guess I'm amazed that in one sweeping motion a company can break such a fundamental functionality of the internet for all their customers and think it's OK.

As long as it's easy enough to OPT-OUT.

travelin cat

 5:58 pm on Aug 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

incrediBILL makes a very good point regarding checking links. However, XENU is not available on Mac's.

I have found a couple of link checkers for the Mac platform but the only reliably updated one I can recommend is Integrity.


 10:29 pm on Aug 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

>As long as it's easy enough to OPT-OUT.


>Most ISPs with experience in this area see 0.1% or fewer customers opt-out over time.

How easy can you get, man? If it were any easier ... everyone would do it!


 10:33 pm on Aug 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

2 - For the balance of customers, this is opt-out. Most ISPs with experience in this area see 0.1% or fewer customers opt-out over time.

And if it were opt in you'd have similar results or lower.

Then you make it difficult to opt out requiring the MAC address of the modem. Give me break as the MAC # is already tied to the assigned IP anyway isn't it?

Why not have simple opt in the account settings?


 10:03 am on Aug 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

This doesn't affect me as I live in the UK but I have two questions.

1) If a sensible response code such as 410 Gone was used, would that satisfy the requirements of automated tools?
2) Might a legal challenge be raised? The rules under which telecom companies operate may be out of date, nevertheless, there might be something useful there. Also, is there a regulatory authority that could rule on its legality. In the UK, a complaint could be raised with OFCOM (but they are totally useless so it would probably be a waste of time).



 3:26 pm on Aug 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

Two cents thrown in, I experienced this in '07 with a huge satellite provider, [webmasterworld.com] and worse. At first I also thought it was FF. But they were, from their server, redirecting to their own branded search engine.

If you opted out of this service from the ISP's web site, guess what? They then would return the Internet Explorer "friendly not found" page - even in FireFox. Obvious copyright infringement.


 7:13 am on Aug 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

i noticed similar behavior recently while online through a verizon dsl connection.
i didn't have time to investigate further.
i believe i mistyped a domain and received a verizon-branded search result page instead of the expected "Server Not Found".


 4:55 pm on Aug 10, 2009 (gmt 0)

customer advising of the service launch and with a direct link to the opt-out page.

Was it a one-click opt-out? or did they have to fill in a form?

Do you have any tracking to indicate how many of your customers even *read* that email? Care to share? :-)

announced this on our Network Management policy page at [networkmanagement.comcast.net...]

Q: What % of your customers have viewed that page in the last month? What % of customers have *ever* viewed that page?

Most ISPs with experience in this area see 0.1% or fewer customers opt-out over time.

If you are so sure that this change represents a net benefit to customers, then make it opt-in, tell everyone about it, and wait for your systems to be overwhelmed with opt-in requests...

... oh, wait, perhaps you have the feeling you *wouldn't* then get 99% of people opting in ... as (a) people are lazy, and (b) this "improvement" isn't actually such an improvement? ;-)


 9:02 pm on Aug 10, 2009 (gmt 0)

I am seeing this crap on both Firefox and IE.

Interestingly enough, example.com displayed Comcast's ads only once, and it's gone. But any other non-existent URL CONSISTENTLY and in both browsers display Comcast's advertising garbage.

Where'd they get an idea that they could charge you for a service, and then serve ads? Oh yeah, the TV...

A great choice we now have of service provider:
1) Verizon and their monthly screwing with your bill and overcharging you for no service
2) Comcast - "we serve you ads you didn't sign up for".

It is wonderful when you need to worry about DNS Hijacks from the p 0 r n industry, chinese hackers, and now Concast. Welcome to the club!


 9:17 pm on Aug 10, 2009 (gmt 0)

Given their implementation

very apt typo :))


 7:27 pm on Aug 13, 2009 (gmt 0)

Does anyone know what the scope of this is in terms of the volume of web traffic (or domain type-ins) that are for non-existent URLs? It'd be very interesting to understand the financial benefit Comcast gets from doing this, as that will likely define whether or not they pull back from such behavior.

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