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Who's Behind That Web Site? Ask Whois

Some of you noticed that I made an unusual appearance in Sunday's Post -- our story on the First Family's new dog included a one-line credit at the end that noted "Staff writers Howard Kurtz and Rob Pegoraro contributed to this report."

I have yet to demonstrate any expertise in canine breeding or White House coverage, so what did I have to do with the story? I'd like to say that after months of meeting an anonymous tipster in parking garages, I cracked the First Dog story myself -- but the truth is, I just did a little research on the Web on Saturday.

We were trying to figure out who had registered the site First Dog Charlie, which beat The Post to the story by (apparently) publishing a photo of the dog in question, albeit under the wrong name. I got a call from the newsroom, asking for a little help, so I looked up that site's address using Whois, a database of Internet domains. You can run a Whois search from any of numerous sites, including any that register domain names. For this query, I used Herndon-based Network Solutions.

Unfortunately, the Whois database only yielded an anonymized record, hosted by another registrar, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Go Daddy (right, the company with the dippy Super Bowl ads). By default, domain names include real names, mailing addresses and phone numbers, but you can pay a little extra to have your data concealed from public scrutiny.

That's what the owner of this First Dog site did, and that's where my research concluded. (I can only applaud the generosity of whoever in the National section thought my brief effort deserved a credit line.) But that doesn't mean you can't make good use of Whois. Anytime you're trying to decide whether the site you're viewing is a company's genuine online presence, look it up on any Whois page and check for contact info that matches the company's real-world whereabouts.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 13, 2009; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  The business we have chosen , Tips  
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Hi Rob,

Thanks for using Network Solutions' Whois. As a regular subscriber to the print edition I was glad to see you in appearance in Sunday's Post for that article. I love Fast Forward which coincidentally is on Sundy too :)

Cheers !

Shashi Bellamkonda
Social Media Swami

Posted by: shashib | April 13, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for sharing, Rob. Seems to me you are among the WaPo reporters who have dibs on meeting Bo.

Posted by: query0 | April 13, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

I have web site and use an anonymizer..... I have far fewer solicitations (spam offers) than before I made the change. If someone wants to find me as the owner, I want them to spend far more effort to get that info.

Posted by: tbva | April 13, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Shhhhh! You're giving all the open-secrets away! ;)

Seriously - as an Internet consultant who works with small- and micro-businesses, I always urge them to make their domain name registrations anonymous if they don't have a legitimate business address.

I think it's harder and harder to track down people this way in recent years. (Though I scared more than a few people in the 90's with legal threats after they stole my intellectual property - they didn't realize they were so easy to find ;) ).

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | April 13, 2009 11:14 PM | Report abuse

For new domains there's not a lot that you can do, but for domains registered before anonymous registration proxy services, you use private databases like DomainTools to see what the contact information was before the shift to an anonymous proxy.

You can also use tools to see if there are other sites on the same IP address or the adjacent 5 or 10 IP addresses. Sometimes these will be owned by the same person, and they might not have been so careful in covering their tracks on those.

Posted by: mark16 | April 14, 2009 6:30 AM | Report abuse

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