Hundreds of Internet addresses are being revoked in an unprecedented sweep blamed on a software glitch that allowed people to register Web site names nearly identical to those already owned by major corporations and others.
For nearly a month, a problem at a few of the world's 23 Internet companies selling Web addresses permitted customers to register names such as "www.microsoft-.com" or "www.aol-.com" and others with a trailing hyphen for about $60 each.
The problem illustrates the growing pains associated with moving management of the Internet to private industry from under control of the federal government, which for years permitted only a single company to register Web addresses.
Network Solutions Inc. accepts new Web addresses from those companies into the world's master list of Internet names, but it also separately registers addresses on its own. It said it noticed problems earlier this week from some other registration companies and began rejecting the unusual hyphenated addresses.
Network Solutions, based in Herndon, Va., said it was the responsibility of the nearly two-dozen companies selling addresses to filter inappropriate ones. But some of those companies said they believed that was the role of Network Solutions.
"Almost all the registrars did it exactly as it was supposed to be; a few didn't add that filtering," said Don Telage, a Network Solutions senior vice president. "They basically opened the registry to a technical glitch."
Records show that the master address list mistakenly accepted 846 of those names, which violate technical rules laid down years ago because leading or trailing hyphens can cause problems with some Internet computers.
"I saw they were available," said Patrick Anderson of Adnet International, a California marketing firm, who registered more than six such addresses, including "www.computers-.com".
"If it's a fluke in the registration process, it's no big deal," Anderson said. "If they were allowed, then I wanted to make sure I was there first."
One of the companies that allowed Anderson and others to register the hyphenated addresses, Internet Domain Registrars of San Francisco, said Thursday it will revoke those names and reimburse or credit customers.
But the faulty addresses will remain live on the Internet until the task is finished.
"I don't believe the customers who applied for these domain names will have a problem letting go of them because they were invalid in the first place," said Paul Lum, a general manager at the company.
Network Solutions said that Thursday it would also refund to those registration companies the $9 fee it charges to accept each address into the master list.
"This is a new industry," Telage said. "You can't expect this to go off without a hitch. I think considering the time and effort that's gone into this, things are going pretty well."
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