Polynesian techno-porn

Search engine results turn into adult links, thanks to a sleazy programming hack.

Published April 21, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Mix one Polynesian micro-state, a Javascript hack, the Altavista search engine and an adult Web site entrepreneur and what do you get? Yet more proof -- as if any were needed -- that the Net's techno-trickster pornographers are all too comfortable at the cutting edge of Internet evolution.

Last weekend, David Landrigan, a site administrator at the University of Massachusetts Lowell Community Lab, discovered that a Web site operating from a domain name that originally belonged to the South Pacific island state Niue was redirecting unsuspecting Altavista Web surfers to porn sites.

The trick -- dubbed "Snake in the Grass" by Landrigan -- isn't particularly noteworthy in and of itself. The scamsters copied legitimate Web pages that included common words such as "news" or "games" and then hosted these copies at a Web server with the www.passes.nu domain name. (A sampling of such
pages can be found by inputting the search string "news inc host:passes.nu" into the Altavista search engine.) Altavista users who clicked on the copies never saw the original page, however; instead, a Javascript program immediately redirected them to a network of porn sites.

Scamsters have been playing around with such redirects for years on the Web. The new angle this time around is the exotic Polynesian flavor. It turns out that Niue has been selling .nu domains to all comers since November 1997. According to the American Registry of Internet Numbers, the current owners of the www.passes.nu domain are based in St. Louis. But that may not be true for long. Landrigan says that since he began alerting webmasters to the trick,
he has heard from the director of tourism for Niue and the attorney for the .nu domain.

And the FBI. It seems that two of the pages copied belonged to two different government agencies, the USGS and USDA. These porno-tricksters may be at the cutting edge, but they don't appear to be all that smart.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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