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ICANN bigwigs support sanctions on Russian domains

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2022, 16:22:37 (UTC), Domain Policy

Current and former ICANN directors are among 36 high-profile tech policy veterans to support the creation of a new domain block-list that could be deployed in humanitarian crises such as the current war in Ukraine.

An open letter (pdf), published last night, calls to effectively create a list of sanctioned domain names and IP addresses that could be blocked in much the same way as current lists help network operators block spam and malware.

The letter says:

We call upon our colleagues to participate in a multistakeholder deliberation… to decide whether the IP addresses and domain names of the Russian military and its propaganda organs should be sanctioned, and to lay the groundwork for timely decisions of similar gravity and urgency in the future.

Signatories include current ICANN director Ihab Osman, former chair Steve Crocker, founding CEO Mike Roberts, former CSO Jeff Moss and former director Alejandro Pisanty.

Other signatories include three members of the European Parliament, various academics and security researchers, the bosses of networking coordination groups, and the CEOs of several ccTLD registries.

Dmitry Kohmanyuk, founder of Ukrainian ccTLD registry Hostmaster, also signed the letter.

The letter deconstructs Ukraine’s recent requests for internet sanctions against Russian, including its request for ICANN to turn off Russia’s .ru domain, and concludes “the revocation, whether temporary or permanent, of a ccTLD is not an effective sanction because it disproportionately harms civilians”.

Such a sanction would be trivially circumvented and would lead to the proliferation of alt-roots, harming international interoperability, they say.

Having ruled out sledgehammers, the letter goes on to suggest a nutcracker approach, whereby the domain names and IP addresses of sanctioned entities are blocked by consensus of network operators like they’re no more than filthy spammers. The letter reads:

Blocklisting of domain names allows full precision and specificity, which is the problem that precludes action by ICANN. The system is opt-in, voluntary, consensual, and bottom-up, all values the Internet governance community holds dear. Yet, at the same time, it has achieved broad adoption.

We conclude that the well-established methods of blocklisting provide the best mechanism for sanctioning both IP routes and traffic and domain names, and that this mechanism, if implemented normally by subscribing entities, has no significant costs or risks.

The billion-dollar question is of course: Who would decide what goes on the list?

The letter, which says it’s designed to be a conversation-starter, is a bit vague on the policy-making aspect of the proposal.

It calls for the formation of “a new, minimal, multistakeholder mechanism” that would publish a block-list data feed after “due process and consensus”, adding:

This process should use clearly documented procedures to assess violations of international norms in an open, multistakeholder, and consensus-driven process, taking into account the principles of non-overreach and effectiveness in making its determinations. This system mirrors existing systems used by network operators to block spam, malware, and DDoS attacks, so it requires no new technology and minimal work to implement.

While such a system might well help protect gullible (to pick a nationality at random) Americans from the Kremlin’s misinformation campaigns, it’s not immediately clear to me how such a system would help shield blameless everyday Russians from their own government’s propaganda.

If rt.com, for example, were on the block-list, and Russia wanted RT available to its citizens, presumably Russian ISPs would just be told, at the barrel of a metaphorical gun, to stop using the block-list.

It will be interesting to see where this conversation leads.

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Comments (1)

  1. Konstantin says:

    Interesting that Russia already has this kind of blacklist and now it used to block facebook and instagram with a lot of other resources. It operated by Roskomnadzor (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roskomnadzor) and judges can put resources to blacklist. But sometimes it used to block unwanted resources via editing old court cases

Leave a Reply to Konstantin