AlterNIC was an unofficial, controversial Internet domain name registry that relied on an alternative DNS root. The primary purpose of the project was to challenge the monopoly of InterNIC, the official governing body for generic top-level domains (gTLDs) until the creation of the ICANN in 1998. AlterNIC offered second level domain registration in its own TLDs at lower prices than InterNIC. However, these domain names could only be resolved by name servers that were specifically configured to use the AlterNIC root zone. The project is now defunct; the domain name alternic.net is parked and no longer associated with AlterNIC.
Eugene Kashpureff, Richard Sexton, Jason Hendeles, Bob Allisat and others created AlterNIC in 1995, defining it as a privately developed and operated Internet network information center and domain name registry service, with the purpose of enhancing the Internet with new information services.
In the mid-1990s, the Internet was in a governance transition phase. Until then, the organizational structure of the network was still heavily influenced by its military, academic and governmental origins. At the same time, there was a rapidly increasing interest of private companies, followed by the general public, to gain access to the Internet. Domain names began to play a crucial role in business visibility, and the number of registrations grew exponentially.
Initially, registration of new domain names and their maintenance involved no direct costs for the registrant. In 1995, the National Science Foundation authorized Network Solutions (NSI), the private company that they had mandated to maintain and operate the registries, to begin charging registrants an annual fee. Some perceived this move as unfair, given that the market was closed to competitors.
Eugene Kashpureff and company were among them and they decided to create an alternative registry to challenge the monopoly of NSI.
AlterNIC started operating their registries even though their name servers were not included in the Internet official root zone. As a result, only users of manually reconfigured name servers were able to resolve AlterNIC names.
- .biz (unrelated to the subsequent, official .biz gTLD created by the ICANN)
- .eur (European name services, by NetName)
- .fcn (Free Community Network - no cost DNS for charities & non-profits. Inactive.)
- .usa (designed as a competitor to the official .us)
- .wtv (World Tele Virtual Network commercial Internet TV. Inactive.)
- .xxx (unrelated to the .xxx that was first approved, then revoked by the ICANN, and then approved again)
During the experimental phase, domains could be registered without fees using the .exp and .lnx TLDs. Some TLDs such as .ltd, .med or .xxx were operated directly by AlterNIC. The setup fee for AlterNIC registries was $50. The annual fee was $24, half of the $50 that were charged yearly by NSI for a .com or .net domain ($15 of the $50 were retained for a US Government fund).
A notable feature of AlterNIC was the possibility to request a new custom TLD for the same price as for registrations in existing TLDs. Established publishing groups had requested their own names: Wired magazine had reserved .wired and IDG's affiliate in Europe has reserved .idg
A part of the Internet community has praised the initiative, with some recent scholarship proposing that alternative DNS roots may allow for a more democratic network control structure. Yet many others considered it harmful to the Internet. Using an alternative DNS root breaks the principle of universal resolvability, unless it is for a strictly private purpose. From a DNS perspective, it prevents some parts of the Internet to reach other parts. Jon Postel, a significant contributor to Internet standards, asserted that it would lead to chaos. In May 2000, the Internet Architecture Board spoke out strongly against alternative roots in RFC 2826.
Hijacking of InterNIC's website
On July 11, 1997, against the advise of his Alternic colleagues, Kashpureff hijacked the InterNIC website, redirecting affected visitors to the AlterNIC website instead, where they could read about the AlterNIC protest or click a link to the InterNIC page. Kashpureff stopped the hijacking three days later on July 14, but started again on July 18. This led NSI, the operator of the InterNIC website, to file a lawsuit against Kashpureff.
The civil lawsuit was quickly settled, but NSI had also contacted the FBI to investigate whether Kashpureff had broken federal computer crime laws. On October 31, he was arrested in Toronto on U.S. charges related to wire fraud and faced extradition to the United States. After fighting extradition for two months, he waived his rights, and was extradited to New York City. He was released on December 24, and sentenced a $100 fine and two years of probation.
The hijacking was made possible using a DNS cache poisoning attack, exploiting a security vulnerability in versions of BIND earlier than 4.9.6. And led to the implosion and destruction of Alternic as a viable enterprise and alternative DNS provider.
- Archived version of AlterNIC website
- George Lawton, New top-level domains promise descriptive names, SunWorld, 1996-09-16, retrieved through Archive.org
- Bastick, Zach (2012). "Our Internet and Freedom of Speech ‘Hobbled by History’: Introducing Plural Control Structures Needed to Redress a Decade of Linear Policy". European Commission: European Journal of ePractice. Policy Lessons Learned: Policy lessons from a decade of eGovernment, eHealth & eInclusion (15): 97–111.
- RFC 2826 (informational), IAB Technical Comment on the Unique DNS Root, Internet Architecture Board, The Internet Society (May 2000)
- Janet Kornblum, AlterNIC founder faces extradition, CNET News, 1997-11-13. Retrieved 2010-03-22
- Janet Kornblum, AlterNIC founder arrested, CNET News, 1997-11-03. Retrieved 2010-03-22
- NANOG Mailing List, Re: what's up, AlterNIC?, 1997-07-11. Retrieved 2010-03-22
- The Internet Archive Wayback Machine List for AlterNIC.net (their last copy before the domain began being used for advertising is of April 21 1999)
- Eugene Kashpureff's personal homepage
- Justice Department press release announcing guilty plea