OK, this may sound like a geek-only topic, but it could have a severe effect on everyone in the world who accesses the Internet.Â In fact, it couild have a devastating effect on the Internet as we know it, period.Â Pardon me while I lapse into Geek-Speak to try to explain why this is such an important and potentially frightening subject.
ICANN (pronounced eye-can) is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Headquartered in Marina Del Rey, California, United States, ICANN is a non-profit corporation that was created on September 18, 1998 in order to oversee a number of Internet-related tasks previously performed directly on behalf of the U.S. government by other organizations, notably the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).
ICANN's tasks include responsibility for Internet Protocol (IP) address space allocation, protocol identifier assignment, generic (gTLD) and country code (ccTLD) top-level domain name system management, and root server system management functions. More generically, ICANN is responsible for managing the assignment of domain names and IP addresses. To date, much of its work has concerned the introduction of new generic top-level domains (TLDs). The technical work of ICANN is referred to as the IANA function. ICANN's other primary function involves helping preserve the operational stability of the Internet; to promote competition; to achieve broad representation of global Internet community; and to develop policies appropriate to its mission through bottom-up, consensus-based processes.
On September 29, 2006, ICANN signed a new agreement with the United States Department of Commerce (DOC) that is a step forward toward the full management of the Internet's system of centrally coordinated identifiers through the multi-stakeholder model of consultation that ICANN represents.
To break this down into English, ICANN controls the Internet.Â Even though it is private, ICANN is loosely connected with the U.S. Government.Â ICANN is located within the United States borders.
ICANN also controls and holds the keys to the six top level DNS servers in the world.Â These are the primary "keepers of the gate" that decode a URL (Universal Resource Locator) into a TCP/IP address.Â When you type a URL in your address bar, your browser asks one of the thousands of secondary DNS around the world where this URL goes.Â Every five to thirty minutes these servers update themselves against the six primary DNSs.
Back in 2003, the National Security Agency demanded that ICANN turn over the keys to the backdoors on the primary DNS.Â Fortunately, because it is a private corporation, ICANN had the presence of mind to suggest a location for that request where the sun don't shine.
If a government or group of governments had access to the six primary DNS, It would be possible to either zero out the column containing IP address numbers, or change them to point where the government wanted them to go.Â Everybody in the world would be up the creek within an hour, unless...
Built into the transmission control protocol is a default priority for decoding a URL.Â This is standard on a Windows machine, MAC, and Linux.Â Every computer with TCP/IP built in will first look in the local HOSTS. file to see if there is a reference to the URL that is typed in.Â Every operating system ships with this file that is (on Windows XP) located in C:\Windows\System32\Drivers\Etc\HOSTS.Â It is shipped empty, except for a translation for 127.0.0.1 - localhost (your computer).Â You can add (using Notepad or any other text editor) the translation for any URL you want to access.Â If a URL is not found in your local hosts file, TCP then requests a translation from your ISP's DNS (which got its information from the top-level DNS sometime within the past hour).Â This can take a few seconds, depending on how much traffic that DNS is suffering.Â If a translation is not found on your ISP's DNS, then a request is sent out to one of the six top level DNS.Â When the address is returned (the four octets that identify EVERY domain in the world), only then will your browser go there and try to open a page.
If the top level DNS is shut down or contains bogus information, you are SOL as far as getting there from here is concerned.Â I have a utility that I've used for over 10 years that automatically populates my local HOSTS. file with the IP address of every web page I visit with a browser or access with any other program.Â The next time I go to that page, the browser finds the address in my local HOSTS. and bypasses the DNS.Â The original intent of this utility was to speed up browsing by not having to hit the DNS more than once for every page that I am interested in accessing.Â A bonus is, if the DNS goes bad, I still access where I want to go because I have the exact address stored locally.Â This has actually saved me several times when my ISP DNS has gone down.
OK.Â Enough background about why ICANN and DNS is important.Â Here are the potential problems (other than NSA getting access to the top level DNS).
The European Union is pressuring ICANN to cut ALL ties with the U.S. Government.Â Not a bad thought in my mind; HOWEVER, they want a major role in ICANN activities.Â Newly appointed ICANN director Rod Beckstrom did not waste any time in replying to the European Union "the internet works fine, so there's little need for change." (In my vernacular, 'it ain't broke so don't fix it')
The European Commission (EC) has called for "an open, independent and accountable governance of the internet," lending support to suggestions from EUÂ commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding, who, in a video blog on her site, had called for a "globally responsible, privatised ICANN."
BothÂ the EC and Redding called for "multilateral accountability," including the set up of what Redding called "G-12 for Internet Governance." This organisation was to be "a small, independent international tribunal" that would oversee the working of ICANN and that would include two representatives from each North America, South America, Europe and Africa, three representatives from Asia and Australia, as well as the Chairman of ICANN as a non-voting member.
Beckstrom, who is a former director of the US National Cybersecurity Center (NCSC), said that 80 countries were already represented in the Governmental Advisory Committee, an ICANNÂ advisory body.Â To me, "advisory" means just that; "I'll listen to what you suggest, but I don't have to do it."Â Internet governance implies a group that would have absolute control.
Imagine the Internet where Hugo Chavez of South America or Hu Jintao of China actually has some kind of authority over where the Internet is going to go.Â You all know that I am not crazy about the current government of the United States, but ICANN has done pretty well keeping it at arm's length for a long time.Â The wolf may be at the door, but you don't have to open it.