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EditorialOn Tuesday Microsoft Corporation served a federal court order on a Nevada Internet company called No-IP, a Domain Name Service (DNS) provider owned by Vitalwerks.  22 of No-IP's most commonly used domain names were seized because Microsoft claimed that some of the subdomains have been abused by creators of malware.  But NO-IP officials say that they could have and would have policed themselves.

"Had Microsoft contacted us, we could and would have taken immediate action," the company said in an email to customers Tuesday morning.  "Microsoft now claims that it just wants to get us to clean up our act, but its draconian actions have affected millions of innocent Internet users."

I happen to be one of those millions of innocent Internet users and while I am not particularly surprised that a behemoth like Microsoft has chosen bullying instead of partnering, I am, to put it mildly, annoyed.  Seriously ticked off.

I have a few cameras on my home network that I use as a cheap security system.  I can see my house when I am travelling, or just away from home.  I use it to make sure the cats are still alive and that things are where they are supposed to be.  When I am covering events for the Lansing Star I often access my driveway camera to see if my wife's car is there: if so, I am likely to come home more quickly, because I happen to like her.

I use NO-IP because the kind of Internet service I have does not assign a static IP (Internet Protocol) number to my cable modem.  The IP number is an address that tells Web sites, email programs, or other devices like your phone where your Internet connection, and therefore your home computer or network, is. Instead, it assigns random IP numbers as they are available.  That is economical for the Internet provider, because it can use fewer IP numbers by assigning them where and as needed.

But here's the thing: for the app on my phone to know where to find my cameras, it needs to know the IP number of my cable modem.   I don't want to see other peoples' cameras, and I don't want them to see mine.  So I have to know my IP number before I can see my driveway (and my cameras are password protected).  But if the cable company keeps changing the number, what do I do?

To put it simply: how would the mailman find your house if your street address kept changing?

That's where NO-IP comes in.  A NO-IP app on my computer alerts the service when my IP number changes.  NO-IP then allows me to use one of their domain names to access my system.  So instead of using a four-part number in my phone app settings I use something along the lines of  Then the NO-IP service sends me to whatever IP address my system currently has assigned to it.

Bottom line: I can see my driveway on my phone.

That's not what happened Tuesday.  All I got was black squares where the camera images were supposed to be.  When I checked my email I found a notification from NO-IP explaining what had happened and recommending a temporary fix (that required a bunch of time in my life that I will never get back, resetting each camera and settings in my NO-IP account).

"As you certainly know by now, on Monday control of our most popular domain names were seized. As a result, millions of hostnames have gone dark and millions of our users have been put out of service," NO-IP Owner and CEO Dan Durrer wrote to his customers Thursday, saying he shared his customer's frustration.  "We have been throwing everything we have at getting you back online with the least possible delay."

I have complained before about how bad people ruin good things for good people.  Spammers ruin email.  Scammers ruin the World Wide Web.  Malware producers ruin computing.  Graffiti so-called-artists ruin architecture.  Microsoft didn't seem to get it this week.  NO-IP does.

"Our abuse team is constantly working to keep the No­IP system domains free of spam and malicious activity," the company said Tuesday.  "We use sophisticated filters and we scan our network daily for signs of malicious activity. Even with such precautions, our free dynamic DNS service does occasionally fall prey to cyber scammers, spammers, and malware distributors. But this heavy-handed action by Microsoft benefits no one."

They are right.  It is up to NO-IP to police its own system.  Microsoft may think it is hall monitor to the world, but it is not.  What gives one company the right to restrict another company's assets just because it wants to?  I wonder what the federal judge who issued the court order thought justifies such a thing?  Was it the heat in Reno?

"Unfortunately, Microsoft never contacted us or asked us to block any subdomains, even though we have an open line of communication with Microsoft corporate executives," NO-IP's Tuesday email said.

I really like the convenience of knowing my home is safe and the cats are alive, and the cameras are a convenient way to do that.  It's a simple way to give me a little piece of mind.  One time I even used my 'kitty litter camera' to solve a crime:

One of our four cats was pooping on the basement floor instead of using one of the many litter boxes she has to choose from.  But how could we know which one it was unless we stayed in the basement 24/7 hoping to catch her in the act?  An app that uses motion detection started recording when the nasty perpetrator chose the floor.  Stinky, it turned out, was the culprit.  Using an IP camera to monitor the cat toilet was a lot nicer than hiding in the rafters waiting for a feline to poop.

Seriously, Microsoft?  You don't want me to see which cat is pooping on my floor???!!!

Update: By Thursday around 6:30 customers were notified the domains had been returned to NO-IP's control.  But that does not make up for days of interrupted service and the time wasted working around a problem that never should have existed.
According to PC World Monday's action was the tenth time Microsoft has used the courts to take sweeping action against networks of hacked computers.  Executive director and associate general counsel of Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit David Finn claimed Tuesday that "due to a technical error some customers whose devices were not infected by the malware experienced a temporary loss of service.  We regret any inconvenience these customers experienced."

The NO-IP site was unreachable for some part of Tuesday because of Microsoft's action, which Microsoft claimed wasn't their fault, but instead the result of a DoS attack against NO-IP.  My heart wasn't particularly warmed by Microsoft's regret.  Maybe service was restored, but folks using the seized domain names could not access their cameras or Web sites hosted on their home computers or whatever they use NO-IP for unless they could switch to a domain name that hadn't been seized. By Tuesday evening I was finally able to log on and make my changes.

Thanks to NO-IP's timely, open and helpful emails I was able to view my driveway on my phone by late Tuesday.  I can even see the cat poop.  Life is better.

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