An Internet search company has sued VeriSign over a widely-criticised service that sends Web users to a VeriSign search page after entering a non-existent Web address.

Popular Enterprises LLC of Orlando, operator of the Netster.com search site, said it was seeking an injunction barring VeriSign from running the Site Finder as well as damages of up to US$100 million.

VeriSign controls the main database of .com and .net domain names. On Monday, company added a "wild card" to the databases, sending Web users who enter a non-existent .com or .net address to Site Finder, a new VeriSign search service.

Popular Enterprises accuses VeriSign of antitrust violations, unfair competition and violations of the Unfair Trade Practices Act, according to the statement. The suit was filed Thursday in U.S District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Besides offering a search Web site, Netster also offers a search toolbar product called SmartBrowse that helps users after they enter a non-existent domain. VeriSign has now "hijacked" that traffic, according to Popular Enterprises.

"They are using the whole universe of unregistered domains as their own profit pool and are scooping up all that business by no effort of their own, just by virtue of their position," said Chris Hill, a partner at Scarborough and Rugh in Orlando, which represents Popular Enterprises.

VeriSign's Site Finder has drawn a storm of criticism and caused some anti-spam filters to malfunction. Uproar among network administrators prompted the Internet Software Consortium (ISC) to update its popular BIND (Berkely Internet Name Domain) DNS (Domain Name System) software so Site Finder can be blocked. Popular Enterprises expects to serve VeriSign with the suit on Friday, Hill said.

VeriSign said it could not comment on the suit because it has not yet received it. However, spokesman Brian O'Shaughnessy did say that although VeriSign has no intention of pulling the Site Finder service, the company is actively engaging with the industry to listen to what the issues and concerns are and improve the service.