Netcraft Toolbar: Elegant Host Detection

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Since locating a host is one of the most difficult parts of dealing with copyright infringement or spam, have repeatedly highlighted tools that have helped users detect who the host of a site is. I’ve specifically mentioned Who Is Hosting This?, a great tool to make finding the host as simple as possible, and Domain Tools, a site for finding out a wide variety of information about a site for those with more experience.

However, while doing research for another article, I ran across an old Firefox and IE toolbar by Netcraft, a British Internet services company that specializes in security, particularly with phishing-related issues.

Though it is called Netcraft Anti-Phishing toolbar, it provides a very unusual and powerful feature for those that deal with content theft and spam issues, namely on-the-fly hosting and country information about any given site.

In short, if you install the toolbar, for every site you visit, you’ll see the host of the site displayed in your browser toolbar, no need to use a bookmarklet or paste the link into another site.

Though the toolbar is primarily phishing oriented, providing information on the age of the domain, the estimated rank, a site report and a “Risk Rating”, it could also be very useful for those that are either curious about hosting matters or are constantly looking up hosting information for abuse complaints.

However, there are a few caveats to remember if you decide to install it.

Words of Warning

There are a few things to keep in mind as you use this toolbar and important considerations to weigh to decide if it is right for you:

  1. Privacy Issues: The toolbar does do some very basic tracking in order to compile its rankings. Though Netcraft says none of this is personally identifiable, you may wish to read through their FAQs to ensure that you agree with their policies.
  2. Some Inaccurate Results: Though any automated host detection system is going to make mistakes, Netcraft lacks some of the changes and improvements made by Who Is Hosting This in terms of detecting hosts that use other networks, such as Hostgator. This means that Netcraft will detect most networks well but isn’t a complete replacement for other services.
  3. Strange Linking: Clicking the link in the toolbar doesn’t take you to the host’s home page or to a page about the host company, rather, it takes you to a generic page about the site itself.
  4. Incompatibility: The toolbar is rather old, not updated since May, 2008 and doesn’t work out of the box with the new Firefox 3.1 betas. I was able to get it to work with Nightly Tester Tools and it seems to be moving along fine.
  5. Screen Real Estate: Obviously, any tool bar you install is going to take away some from your browsing area. If you aren’t going to use this toolbar heavily or don’t need the extra security features, you probably won’t wish to bother with it.

None of these problems will likely be a deal-breaker for those that need either the security or the host detection elements of this toolbar, but they should be weighed carefully before hitting “install”.

Bottom Line

I’m likely going to keep the toolbar installed for a while. I am interested in host-related issues both as someone who files abuse reports and DMCA notices, but also for personal curiosity. I also like the fact that it plainly shows what country is hosting the site and the age of the domain.

All in all, with this toolbar, when I see a site I need to take some form of action against and I have the toolbar installed, I’m able to form the beginnings of the strategy right away. The information provided lets me determine if the site is a likely spam blog what country it is hosted in and, in most cases, who is hosting it.

Though it isn’t for everyone, for those that need this information, it is a powerful tool and a great time saver.

Sample Information

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