Whois refers to a protocol on the Internet which is used to make queries, with the main obective of finding out the identity of the registered party for a specific domain name or IP address. It also allows administrators to monitor the date of registration and its status.
There are other tools which may be used to perform the same function, but whois is still used by many web administrators. At first, conducting a search meant having to do so using a command line, but it is now possible to simple enter a domain name into a whois site and retrieve the necessary information.
Data taken via whois may take on a variety of functions. Aside from simply providing contact details of Internet Service Providers, domain name administrators, and network operators, it also aids in law enforcement. It helps enforcement authorities gather the necessary information when investigating violations of both national and international laws. In this way, abuse of Internet use is reduced, and illegal activities which make use of the Internet as a tool for conducting these are prevented or minimized.
Examples of such activities could be the trafficking of humans, particularly children, racially-motivated attacks, and activities related to terrorism. Conducting whois searches can also help businesses fight against fraud and online theft, therefore increasing public confidence in the Internet as a venue for commerce.
Since information gathered using whois may serve several purposes, one of the issues concerning whois is the accuracy of such data. It is also possible for such information to be abused. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which is a non-profit, public-benefit organization that deals mainly with domain name and IP address regulation, is one of the prime movers in finding ways to address these issues.