Plagiarism-Fighting Network Tools: Part One

Filed as Features, Guides on July 23, 2007 1:29 pm

For most, the hardest part in dealing with plagiarism is researching the case and either uncovering the plagiarist or discovering who the host is.

Doing that requires a certain amount of detective work and technical expertise. One must be something of an Internet sleuth, using the tools of the trade to follow the trail of the plagiarist to unveil both their identity and location.

To a novice, the process might seem complicated. The networking world littered with strange terms and ideas that can confuse even the brightest of minds. However, the tools themselves are actually very simple to use and all of the lookups needed can be performed via a Web browser.

All it takes is a few minutes to learn the names and functions of the various tools and you will be will on your way to becoming an Internet detective.

When it Isn’t Necessary

Before we begin looking at some of the tools, it is worth noting that, much of the time, such detective work is not needed. If the person taking your content does not have their own domain name (.com, .net, etc.) and is hosted on a free service such as wordpress.com or blogspot.com, there is no need, nor any use, for networking tools.

Such tools, in those cases, can not be used to identify the plagiarist and the host is immediately recognizable. In those cases, the best thing you can do is take your complaint straight to the company that runs the site and file a DMCA notice or other complaint with them.

Generally, you can find the DMCA contact information for them on their home page or on my DMCA contact list.

In those cases, which are increasingly common, you can completely bypass all of the networking tools mentioned in favor of a more direct approach.

Think of it as a favor from the plagiarist.

Whois

According to DefineThat technical dictionary, Whois (pronounced who-is) is “A command commonly used to show the DNS information about a site. Shows the owner, name server information, and owner’s address.”

Basically, what a whois query does is obtain what is called a “Whois record” for that domain. The whois record will contain information about the person who registered the domain, generally including their name, address, phone number and which registrar the domain was reserved at.

This information can be very useful if you wish to contact the plagiarist directly. Since giving false whois information is a violation of ICANN regulations (ICANN is the international organization that oversees domains) it is possible to report false whois information and, possibly, get the domain revoked if the information is not accurate.

There are many different sites that enable you to perform a Whois query. One of the most powerful is Domain Tools, which is a site we will be revisiting often in this series as they have virtually all of the tools we will be cover.

To perform a Whois search on Domain Tools, simply input the domain name without the www or http:// and wait for the results. Scroll down to the “Whois Record” section and there you will find the results. You should find the contact information for the domain under the “Registrant” heading.

It is worth noting that many sites use Whois anonymizing services such as DomainsByProxy that keep their personal information out of the Whois record. Though this can seem like a defeat, remember that the contact information is still valid and that an email sent to the anonymous account should be forwarded on to their real address. The same should also work for postal mail sent to the physical address listed.

If the email address bounces, then one may be able to report the owner for providing false whois information. The same holds true if the information is not anonymous but also invalid.

DNS/Reverse DNS

DNS simply stands for Domain Name Service and is the means by which a domain name gets translated into an IP address. This is necessary since computers don’t understand domain names and need the IP address to find the actual server the site is on. A DNS server, of which there are many on the net, offers that information via a specialized protocol.

Often times, you can tell who the host of a site is simply by looking at the Whois record underneath the domain servers heading, usually located at the bottom of the report. By simply following the domain listed, you can often times track down the host since most sites use their host’s DNS servers.

However, that information can be misleading. Some sites, especially those trying to escape detection or improve stability, will use 3rd party DNS servers. In those cases, you need to lookup the actual IP of the host, which is achieved by doing a DNS Lookup.

A DNS lookup does the exact same thing your browser does when you enter an address. It sends a request to the DNS server for the domain and retrieves the IP address. Only, rather than visiting the IP, it is displayed for you to read.

That IP address, which is a series of four numbers separated by periods, can then be entered into a Reverse DNS query. If there is just one domain to the IP, known as a dedicated IP, the reverse DNS will present the same domain information. However, since most hosts put hundreds of domains to a single IP, the reverse DNS will return the domain associated with the server itself.

Performing a DNS query on a domain at Domain Tools is simple, it is done automatically when you enter in the domain on the home page. If you scroll down to the “Server Data” subsection, you will see the IP address there. Performing a reverse DNS is almost as simple, clicking the “D” next to the IP will perform the lookup on the IP, generating all relevant DNS information for it.

Though useful, this information is not always reliable. Since some hosts keep separate domains for their servers and their home page, it can only get you so far.

Fortunately, there are other tools available to help drill down even farther and get the information you need to stop plagiarists and content thieves who are stealing your hard work.

Conclusions

Though this is part one in what will likely be a three-part series, the tools discussed here are the most important. Whois and DNS lookups are the bread and butter of most Internet sleuths and are the fundamental tools for tracking down plagiarists.

Though, by themselves, they do not provide all of the answers, they are the building blocks for the tools that do. In the next part we will cover the tools used to identify, definitively, who the host is and, in the third part, we’ll discuss some tools and methods for tracking an entire spam operation.

So please, stick around and soon enough you’ll have the knowledge you need to track plagiarists, spammers and scrapers of all varieties.

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