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ICANN Brussels trending topics: security and control

Kevin Murphy, June 21, 2010, 11:17:05 (UTC), Domain Policy

Security and politicking over control of the domain name system’s critical functions emerged as key memes during the opening ceremony of ICANN’s 38th public meeting this morning, here in Brussels.

In a speech that addressed a few controversial topics, ICANN president Rod Beckstrom responded unapologetically to those who had criticised the fairly alarmist tone of his remarks about DNS security at ICANN 37, three months ago.

Directly addressing his Nairobi comments, Beckstrom said:

You may disagree with what I said, and openness to different viewpoints is what makes our community strong. Some have asked why I said what I did. Simple. I said it because I believe it is the truth. And more than twenty years of experience in risk management have taught me that in addressing highly complex systems, it is better to be more concerned about risk than less.

The ccTLD constituency – led by .uk and .au – had been concerned about Beckstrom’s warning in Nairobi, which was made at a meeting of the Governmental Advisory Committee, because they risked giving governments reason to interfere with their country’s ccTLD.

Beckstrom’s keynote addressed the risk of too much government control over the DNS, embodied currently in rumblings about another International Telecommunications Union power grab, with a call to action for all those who support ICANN’s model.

We must face the fact that governments control these institutions. Given the serious proposals for an alternative to our bottom-up, multi-stakeholder model, we must redouble our efforts to support it if we are to protect the global public interest. All our stakeholders must step up to the plate and defend our common interest.

We will of course work closely with the Governmental Advisory Committee. But we need the active involvement of all stakeholders. We need your help, through every means available to you, to counter the misinformation and ensure that governments understand what is at stake when these issues are debated in the UN General Assembly later this year.

Beckstrom’s sentiments on security were echoed by both European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and, in a recorded address, European Commissioner for competition Neelie Kroes.

Kroes, in particular, seemed keen to marry the ideas of security risks and control over the internet’s crucial policy-making functions.

I am hopeful that the expiry of the IANA contract next year will be turned into an opportunity for more international cooperation servicing the global public interests.

But don’t misunderstand me. The internet’s day to day functioning works well, and I’m the first to say that if it isn’t broken don’t fix it. We all have an interest that this wonderful platform for innovation, entrepreneurship and free expression works perfectly well at a technical level. It is a great adventure that must continue to flourish. Yet, does it mean all is well in the cyber world?

Take the issue of security and resilience. We need to fight against spam, identity theft, phishing and other evolving types of crime on the internet. Both the public and private sectors have a joint obligation to act. And that approach has to go hand in hand with ensuring the internet itself is not vulnerable to any large-scale failure, whether as a result of an accident of a deliberate attack.

As I type, Beckstrom is hosting a panel discussion with Whit Diffie, Paul Mockapetris, Steve Crocker and Dan Kaminsky on DNS vulnerabilities in front of a packed audience.

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