ICANN Expert Shane Tews Dishes Internet Governance


In this edition of the High Tech Forum Podcast, Richard Bennett is joined by long-time ICANN observer Shane Tews (@ShaneTews) for the lowdown on current issues in international Internet governance. While the surrender of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) from US government control to international oversight caused some heartburn – both genuine and feigned – in the US, it hasn’t had much effect on the world stage.

The nations who criticized the “American DNS” before the transition are still acting as if nothing happened. Lingering concerns about DNS and the obvious insecurity of the Internet of Things have prompted discussions about a meta-DNS based on Distributed Object Architecture (DOA).

DOA adds an additional “layer” to the Internet architecture that both hides the physical location of packages of information and allows for additional validation before and during their transfer. On the web, we name the files we want to see – web pages, movies, songs 0r whatever – according to the physical server on which they’re located. But with a DOA we can name and retrieve movies (for example) independently of their location.

This feature gives the information provider a great deal of flexibility in the design of their network and also provides protection from many of the attacks that are commonplace on today’s Internet. This isn’t so much a change in the Internet’s organization as a new feature that adds both security and flexibility to the system.

In principle, DOAs are similar to things like “Software Defined Networks” that enhance the Internet’s power by leveraging software to overcome hardware limitations. So the international community has already digested the IANA transition and moved on to the next big thing.

Here are a few highlights of podcast to entice you to give it a listen:

What actually changed in the IANA Transition?

The IANA function is the management of a directory of the Internet’s top level domains – things like .com, .gov, and .bike. Information about these domains used to be managed by IANA under the supervision of NTIA, a part of the Commerce Department. Since the transition, IANA manages this directory – known as the root zone file – directly. Rather than ensuring new assignments and changes are compliant with policy in advance, IANA is now supervised by a post-action oversight process that adjudicates complaints. This process is conducted by ICANN.

Why was the transition important?

The transition was mainly symbolic. Other countries didn’t appreciate the fact that the domains under their control – such as .uk and .eu – were overseen by a department of the United States government. This issue is symbolic because there weren’t any substantial complaints about NTIA interference because it didn’t meddle with administrative details.

The most important part of the zone file’s administration is protection from duplicate assignments. The Internet’s design is such that many of its details – IP addresses and domain names – must be unique or chaos results.

What is the “Triangle of Trust?”

IANA, NTIA, and ICANN used to cooperate to delegate and re-delegate top level domains, which means the root zone file provides IP addresses pointing to the servers that provide authoritative information about the domain. Nominet, for example, is delegated to provide information about .uk, so the root zone assigns Nominet IP addresses to provide information about .uk. This informs users to ask Nominet servers for real, authentic information about sub-domains of .uk  (such as guardian.co.uk). Nominet then passes queries for things like guardian.co.uk to the Guardian’s DNS servers.

Who decides who owns a domain?

IANA grants ownership of top-level domains such as .ping to the winners of auctions. A company that sells golfing equipment known as Ping now owns .ping thanks to a winning bid of $185,000 to ICANN.

What role does ITU play in Internet administration?

ITU  – a department of the UN what has traditionally managed international telephone and telegraph network standards – wants to control the Distributed Object Architecture for the Internet. While DOA is an important idea, it’s not beneficial for ITU to manage it. Like the FCC, ITU is seeking to expand its jurisdiction to remain relevant, but both should stick to spectrum.

What benefit does a DOA provide to the Internet?

DOA allows information providers to grant or revoke access to their infrastructure, information, and servers according to their own policies. This is an advance from the status quo in which access is binary – either everyone has it or no one has it – because it allows for the reliance on degrees of trust and granular permissions.

Do the new top-level domains enhance the Internet’s security?

Owners of the new top-level domains can craft their own access and security policies. Some of these policies may permit anonymity for example, while others may not. A domain such as .bank will be highly secure from end-to-end, for example.

Listen to the podcast to understand what ICANN does, what’s going on with security, the role that Snowden has played in Internet security and what the Internet may look like in the next five to ten years.