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Info Relating to Domain Name Seizures of Poker Sites

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There's been some confusion about the seizure of the domain names and what it means. There's also been a rumor going around that the sites (PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, AbsolutePoker and UB) will be getting their domain names back this week.

I'm not sure about the rumor but here's some info that might clear up what it means for the FBI/DoJ to seize the domains. It actually doesn't mean all that much. At least in terms of putting them out of business.

First of all. The poker sites have what I would assume is a large infrastructure that runs their games as well as their various websites. They have all their servers (computers) in a secure data center outside of the jurisdiction of the US authorities.

Computers on the internet are identified via an IP address. This is a number that looks something like 192.168.123.123. These numbers are inconvenient so there is a naming system, the Domain Name System (DNS) that allows the association of names to IP addresses. So if you type in an address such as www.pokerstars.com your computer will do a DNS lookup through a series of DNS servers to resolve the name into an numerical IP address. Just like calling 411 and getting a phone number based on someone's name.

There are top level domains (TLDs), (.com, .net, .org) etc that are controlled by Domain Registrars. You can register a domain name (such as pokerstars.com) and have the right to exclusively use that domain name for your servers.

When you type www.pokerstars.com into your web browser on your computer, your computer makes a request to the DNS server of your local ISP (comcast, Verizon, etc). Your ISP's DNS server then sees a request for a .com address and sends a request to the ROOT DNS servers which contain pointers to Domain DNS Servers, in this case a DNS server that is controlled by PokerStars, where an IP Address is returned for PokerStars' web server.

That information then gets sent back in reverse order until it winds up at your computer, then your web browser makes whatever request necessary using that IP address.

The ROOT DNS servers for all .com, .net, .gov (as well as .name, .cc and .tv) are controlled by a US based company called VeriSign. VeriSign is subject to the laws of the US and has to comply with any judicial orders that are issued to it.

When the US Gov't seizes a domain all they are really getting control of is essentially a couple of lines of text (or rows in a database) in the ROOT DNS servers. Those lines that used to instruct the ROOT DNS servers to contact PokerStars' DNS Servers to resolve names into IP address now contacts US Gov't DNS servers which ultimately results in requests being sent to US Gov't servers.

The poker site server infrastructure, which is safely housed in a data center outside of the US' reach remains untouched. If you knew the IP address you could theoretically still reach PokerStars website in this example.

DNS Servers cache requests. So if you make a request for www.pokerstars.com on your computer, it will go to your ISP's DNS, then ROOT DNS and then PokerStars' DNS server. But if another customer with the same ISP makes the same request, your ISP's DNS server will just use it's locally cached data instead. For this reason domain name changes can take hours or sometimes a couple of days to propagate through the DNS system.

Different federal agencies have been seizing domain names for various reasons in the past few months. This has caused concern because the .com, .net and .org domain names are important top level domains (TLDs) in the Internet, which is considered global and shouldn't be owned/controlled by the US.

After a site like PokerStars loses their pokerstars.com domain you can no longer access their website by going to www.pokerstars.com. Since the PokerStars client also needs to connect to PokerStars' server infrastructure and uses names (such as update.pokerstars.com) to find those servers, you can't play poker using their software.

Basically all PokerStars needs to do to get everything working again is to get a new domain name registration. In this case they chose pokerstars.eu. The .eu TLD is administered by EURid which is a consortium of different European national domain registrars which the US can't easily touch.

They didn't have to pick pokerstars.eu. They could have chosen pokerstars.im (Isle of Man TLD) or even bobssuperpokerwharehouse.it for that matter. The only thing that matters is that they have a domain name registration that points to their DNS servers and that their poker client is updated to point to the new update.pokerstars.eu server.

These are relatively simple changes to make and it's easy for a site like PokerStars to let their customers know that they need to go to a new url to download the new software. PokerStars was back up and running the same day. Then the software on your computer can be able to communicate with PokerStars' servers and function as normal.

The seizure of the domain names does very little to disrupt the business of these poker sites. It would be like the local police trying to shut down a crack house by changing the house numbers on the front door.

To me, it just looks like a lame show of force. If they continue to do these types of domain seizures it's going to make the rest of the world try and get these important TLDs out of the control of the US.

It looks impressive, but it's ultimately meaningless. I'm not familiar with how the forfeiture of bank accounts works but what Carol (forgot last name her blog is bwop.blogspot.com) said on the massive QuadJacks Black Friday webcast, the funds weren't actually seized. Only a restraining order was placed on those accounts. I'm not sure how that will work for banks outside of the US. If someone can clarify how easy it would be for these sites to get access back to these accounts in different jurisdictions I would appreciate it if you left a comment.

*EDIT: Further research indicates the US has a lot of leverage over the forfeiture of foreign money. They usually get the foreign bank to cooperate. If they don't, they just seize the same amount from a local branch of the the foreign bank. The type of forfeiture (in rem) also doesn't require a conviction. This could be ugly.

1 Response to "Info Relating to Domain Name Seizures of Poker Sites"

Anonymous Says....

cool post. Do you think las vegas is lobbying for these measures?

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