WhoIsHostingThis: Easy and Reliable

One of the hardest parts of dealing with spam, copyright infringement or other abuse issues on the Web is finding out who to report it to. To do that, typically one has to determine who is hosting the site and, though it is relatively simple with sites such as Myspace and Facebook, it gets far more complicated when dealing with blogs or sites that have their own domain names.

The techniques for determining who a host is are, at best, complicated and somewhat geeky in nature. Though I wrote a guide on how to use some tools for finding the host, the process remains one of the most common questions I get asked about.

At least one site, WhoIsHostingThis, has attempted to simplify this process. Turning into a Google-style experience. Previously reported on here the site did a respectable job in most cases, though there were some peculiar results on some tests.

The idea is that the networking wizardry should be hidden from the user and the site should receive a domain (or bookmarklet click) and then simply return the host. A great theory, especially for the non-tech oriented, but due to the nature of the work it is not always reliable. Most who are familiar with the tools, myself included, tended to lean on more sophisticated sites, such as DomainTools.

However, an upgrade at WhoIsHostingThis is attempting to change that, by fixing the kinks and bugs and, potentially, making the site a one-stop shop for domain hosting and information.

Some Geek Stuff

The typical way to determine the host of a site is a tool called IP Whois. Basically, IP Whois works like this:

  1. All servers on the Web (as well as all computers or routers facing the Web) resolve to an IP address, a set of four numbers from 0-255.
  2. Those IP addresses are controlled and doled out by various Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) that are non-profit oversight boards that help control these limited resources. ARIN is the RIR for the United States and North America.
  3. When RIRs assign IP addresses, they keep a registry of who is assigned what numbers. That information can be queried by an IP Whois.
  4. The most common purchasers of IP addresses are Web hosts, such as GoDaddy, ISPs, such a your cable company, and academic institutions.
  5. These institutions then allow their customers to use the IP address for accessing the Internet, hosting a site, etc. but usually do so only on their own network. Most of the time an IP address purchased by company X will point to a customer of their company.
  6. Thus, an IP Whois can usually trace you back to who is hosting a particular site or at least who is responsible for the IP address at that particular location.

The procedure is far from perfect and, as we’ll explore there are ways it can be gamed. But it is far more accurate than other methods, such as looking at the DNS servers, which can be trivially changed by spammers and plagiarists.

It is also this method that has been largely utilized by WhoIsHostingThis with great results. However, where the site has struggled has been with exceptions to the rule, cases where the IP Whois is misleading or, worse still, downright wrong.

Though these are cases that can usually be corrected with other tools, such as traceroutes (which look at the path traffic takes to arrive at the destination) or the DNS information, that information has, traditionally, not been used by WhoIsHostingThis.

That is starting to change.

The “HostGator Problem”

In March of 2007, one of the largest moves in Web hosting took place as HostGator, the very popular budget Web host, moved much of its 500,000 plus domains into ThePlanet’s datacenter. Though the move made sense for both parties, it created an abuse reporting kludge that remains.

The problem is this, on those half million domains, the IP Whois information points to The Planet and not Hostgator since they are located within The Planet’s network. Thus many, myself included, have sent DMCA notices or spam reports to The Planet thinking that they were the host. This has created slow downs in addressing critical issues.

However, these problems are largely avoidable as the DNS servers, as well as other information, do point to HostGator as the host. The problem is that the information can be easily overlooked.

So, while this problem can be overcome by humans, it requires a fair amount of skill at reading networking and domain information and, even then, is prone to mistakes. WhoIsHostingThis is seeking to fix that problem by looking at multiple sources of information, including the DNS information, to determine who the host is.

In that regard it has already “fixed” the Hostgator problem, a search on the site for a HostGator domain reveals HostGator as the host, not The Planet. A similar result happens when you look for WordPress.com domains, as it shows WordPress as the host, not Layered Technologies.

Though the site provides the additional information below the main result, in case the results are mistaken, it is right in these cases.

Further Improvements

Though WhoIsHostingThis has already integrated many of the hosts that, like HostGator, have their IP addresses listed as being another service, this is not to say that they have all of them. The operators of the site admit that the site needs further improvements.

However, where the site was previously about 95% accurate with its information, it is now most likely well over 99%. These cases where the IP Whois was wrong were rare to begin with and the site has already fixed most of the larger outliers. This means that only a fraction of a fraction of domains should return any issues.

That being said, there are still issues and bugs to be worked out. For one, where the site does very well with U.S. and Canada-based hosts, international ones, especially those in languages other than English, seem to give the site trouble from time to time. Also, there are still at least some cases where the information might be technically correct, but does not provide a correct URL for the host or enough information to locate it.

However, as I said earlier, these are extreme outliers. For most cases, WhoIsHostingThis works very well and certainly good enough for those that don’t have the technical expertise to use traditional networking tools.

Conclusions

Personally, I’ve begun using the WhoIsHostingThis bookmarklet to help me determine the host of sites and only using DomainTools or other sites whenever I get a strange result. It’s worked very well these past few weeks (since the updates began) and I’ve been impressed with the work that they have done.

Though I’m never likely to use this site, or any other site, as my exclusive resource for this kind of information (best to have confirmation no matter what you use), the improvements at WhoIsHostingThis have really impressed me.

While there is clearly work to be done, the progress is clearly evident and I am very happy with the improvements they have been making.

16 Responses to WhoIsHostingThis: Easy and Reliable

  1. Jonathan, I enjoyed this post and also enjoy hearing you on the WordPress Podcast. I have used tools like this before but they don't always seem accurate. I had never heard of this WhoisHostingThis. Seems to work well. Now, off to hunt down some content thieves :)

  2. It's worked remarkably well since the upgrades, I've tried similar tools with nowhere near these results. Definitely the best in its field though maybe still not as reliable as the manual method… yet.

    Let me know how it works for you!

  3. It's worked remarkably well since the upgrades, I've tried similar tools with nowhere near these results. Definitely the best in its field though maybe still not as reliable as the manual method… yet.

    Let me know how it works for you!

  4. [...] was an issue that has tripped up other services, including Domain Tools, and prompted a fix from WhoIsHostingThis. During many of my tests, Quarkbase refused to even guess about the host information, instead just [...]

  5. Scott says:

    Great article but I'm sort of confused. Back in 2007 you wrote the "The Reseller Problem" article where you indicated that if a reseller was shaky or non-responsive then you should contact the original host. But in this article you seem to indicate that contacting the original host (i.e. The Planet) can create substantial slow downs. I bring this up as I found a website that is infringing on a copyrighted photograph of mine and it appears the website is hosted by a company called CrisisHost. What little I could find on this company seemed very shaky with only one personal email contact listed. So I have tracked down the website IP and the original host is The Planet. Being very wary of contacting CrisisHost I sent a DMCA notice to The Planet a few days ago and have not seen any action yet. So between these two articles I am a bit confused as to what may happen. From what I have read, because The Planet is ultimately storing the infringing photo on their network then they will take the steps to take it down. But how long?

  6. Let me try to clarify. If a reseller is flaky or non-responsive, you should definitely contact the original host. Going back to ThePlanet/Hostgator as an example, if Hostgator was not responding, I would recommend contacting ThePlanet as a backup but realize that the original host will likely move slower due to the nature of the complaint and their relationship. In short, you should try working with the reseller first but, should that fail, you should contact the true host as well. Resellers are faster to act when they do, but do have a tendency to be shaky.Regarding your situation, I would give it a few more days before I get worried. ThePlanet DOES act but is a bit on the slow side. If they haven't acted in week or so after you submitted the notice, forward on what you sent to me and I'll have a look at it. They likely will try to resolve things with the reseller before taking action on their own but will eventually resolve this.Hope that helps!

  7. Scott says:

    Thanks for your clarification on this, it really does help. Based on your article on expediency in responding to DMCA notices I was figuring on the 72 to 96 hour window (and also factoring in the weekend), which would bring me about a week out. I probably should have tried to contact the reseller first, but just the nature of the site made me extremely hesitant. Hence why I went directly to ThePlanet. Very good to know that ThePlanet does act and thank you for the offer of looking at what I sent if they don't respond. I have learned more from your site in two days than I did in 3 weeks looking elsewhere. You are to be commended and if I ever have to refer someone to find information, get help, or consultation regarding infringement of intellectual property I will refer you and your site without hesitation.A true light in an otherwise murky world know as the internet!

  8. Thank you very much for your compliments. It means a lot and I'm happy to make things more clear. If there is anything specific you need, just send me an email and I can probably at least point you the right way.But yes, I don't think you have much to worry about in your case. If your notice was valid, they probably will respond shortly. If you have serious questions about the reseller, you did the right thing. It may be a situation where safe and slow means more than being quick and direct.Let me know how things turn out!

  9. Scott says:

    As of yesterday it looks like things are turning out well, although it did take a little tweaking of ThePlanet to get them to act. It took sending up a follow-up email (with the original DMCA notice included) a week after the initial submission inquiring about the status of my original complaint. When I sent the follow-up I included some additional information that may have been helpful (i.e. an indication of who the reselling host might be and the name servers) and sent to the copyright agent as well as CCing ThePlanet's legal department. Less than 24 hours after sending the follow-up email I received notification that the infringing photo had been removed by the reselling host, which I then confirmed. Hopefully this will be the end of chasing the site in question to have my copyrighted picture permanently removed. The good thing is that the reselling host did a surgical strike, only removed my picture from the site and not taking down the whole site. I did learn a few things along the way that might prove helpful to others:1. If you are not getting a response to your DMCA complaint, follow-up on it and CC the follow-up to any other entities who might be able to help (i.e. legal).2. Follow the P's…….be professional, patient, and also persistent if your claim is valid.3. Be as specific as possible regarding the location of the infringing material (i.e. right click on a photo and check it's properties as this will often give the specific location as to where the infringing material is stored) and include it all in the notice. This can be very important if you only want specific materials removed because you don't want the host to possibly take down a whole web site and then have the site owner get really mad at you, possibly stirring up a hornet's nest.4. Use plagiarismtoday.com as a resource to make sure you do the right thing. A shameless plug on my part, but until I found this site I was really doing things hit or miss, not sure what I was getting into or chasing.Thanks for all of your feedback, information, and as I said earlier hopefully this is now finished.

  10. Scott says:

    The other thing that I have learned is to make sure to keep tabs on a site if it has used your copyrighted material. Because as I have learned over this past weekend the material sometimes reappears in a different part of the website. Hence another DMCA has been filed with ThePlanet. Just when you think you are out, they drag you back in…..

  11. That's a very good list and I definitely stand behind that. Very good advice all around.As far as being dragged back in, try not to worry about it too much. The DMCA requires hosts to ban repeat infringers so he is just digging his own grave.Let me know how things turn out!

  12. Scott says:

    Hmmmmm…things are not turning out exactly as I expected. The second notice did result in the materials again being removed. However, the removal of the picture has clearly irked the website owner. First they put up a note saying the picture was down temporarily due to legal reasons, it would reappear soon, and if anyone has other pictures of me (the clown as the website put it) to submit them. That wouldn't be so bad, but the website used my name in conjunction with IP address I access the site from to put up my full name and some other additional private information including a work email I sometimes use. Good that the picture is down but bad my name, email, and location are up.As far as I know my DMCA notice is completely valid so I'm not sure how they are going to get the image back up. They could do a counter notice but I don't know what grounds they would be claiming it on. As for the identifying information they put up, I'm not sure what I am going to do about that. Chasing them legally could be a total run around and I'm in no position financially to really afford the legal route.This is certainly a conundrum and I'm not exactly sure how it's going to play out.Just letting you know how things are turning out and again thanking you for the words of advice and encouragement.P.S. They might be a little slower, but as you said ThePlanet does respond.

  13. I'm sorry that this person is giving you such a headache. Sadly, privacy laws are a lot more frustrating in this area. I would report this matter to ThePlanet's abuse team and see if they are willing to help. This is inappropriate behavior no matter what rights he thinks you are infringing.

  14. scott says:

    Thanks for the feedback. I'm in the process of trying to get some legal advice and might go to the website first with this request as what they are doing goes directly against their Privacy Policy. So not only are they invading my privacy they are also breaking a contract. The next step would then be to report this matter to The Planet. We shall see.

  15. Scott says:

    The Planet couldn't really help me (even though what this website is doing goes against The Planet's Acceptable Usage Policy) and asked for permission to send my complaint to Crisishost.com (the reseller). However, before anything was sent to me the owner of Crisishost emailed me and asked that I direct all future complaints to him. It appears I may have been hasty in my judgment of Crisishost as this email opened a dialogue and it appears that Crisishost is going to help with this inappropriate behavior. If this does indeed occur then I would give high commendation to them and give myself a kick in the pants for not contacting them directly earlier. I will let you know how things turn out.

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