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How to Use Whois to Learn Who Is Behind a Web Site

March 21, 2009

in Internet

by David Hakala

It pays to know who you are contacting over the Internet. Before you give any personal information, even an email address, to a Web site, you should have some idea who owns it and what their reputation is. If you buy something online, you should know how to contact the vendor in case there is a problem. Think worst case: where and upon whom would you have a lawsuit served?

Most commercial Web sites have an “about” page that tells you about a company, and usually a “contact” page giving the firm’s street address, phone number, and legal name. If you don’t find such information on a site, a red flag should go up and you should do a bit of sleuthing before parting with anything of value.

The most commonly used investigative tool is the “whois” protocol, a method of querying a database of domain names containing information about the domain and the person(s) who registered it. Whois is widely implemented via Web-based interfaces that make searching for the owner of a domain fairly easy.

Network Solutions, Inc., (NSI), is the oldest registrar of domain names. It operates a whois search engine. You can enter a domain name, i. e.,, or an IP address such as, and get immediate results. The Whois record shows who registered the domain; who handles administrative matters such as billing for the domain registration; and who is the technical contact for problems with the domain. Often, they are all the same person.

Unfortunately, all of that whois information can be faked. Often, you will see an obviously bogus phone number such as 999-999-9999. In other cases, the owner of a domain may go through a “privacy protection service” that acts as the owner’s public representative; the service’s name, address, and phone number appears in the whois record, along with an email address that forwards email to the domain owner’s real email address. offers another sleuthing method: who knows the domain about which you want to know? On AlltheWeb’s advanced search page, enter in the “all the words” box the search term link:sitename.tld, where sitename is the domain name in question (i. e., “tiplet”) and tld is the top-level domain (.com, .net, ,org, etc.) Enter the same site name in the “exclude results from” box. The results include Web pages that have links to the site in question. Often, you will find references to the person behind the site.

David Hakala has perpetrated technology tutorials since 1988 in addition to committing tech journalism, documentation, Web sites, marketing collateral, and profitable prose in general. His complete rap sheet can be seen at