When I first worked with TCP/IP and the ARPAnet, there was no DNS. When one wanted to connect to a computer by name, the system looked in a table called “HOSTS.TXT” to find the IP address corresponding to the name. The growing file had to be downloaded every few days from a “nearby” host that had an authoritative copy. That process became unwieldy quite early in the history of the ‘net. Paul V. Mockapetris and John Postel created DNS to address that issue with distributed management of names and addresses.
The distributed nature of DNS allows local organizations to name their own hosts and subdomains. Companies register names with organizations called registrars that make sure there are not two organizations using learningtree.com, among other tasks.
Names are not the whole story. There are both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses that need to be managed. The management of names and addresses is a complex task. In the early days, there was the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority or IANA. For about thirty years, IANA was a task of Jon Postel and Joyce K. Reynolds. It is currently a function of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) with oversight of the US Department of Commerce. You can learn more about the history on Wikipedia.
That’s where it gets complicated. Many people in the Internet community wanted the US Government to end its oversight. A process to do that has been going on for around twenty years! In August of this year, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the US Department of Commerce announced that the parties involved had met the criteria for the transition. The IANA took place at the beginning of this month.
ICANN is a private multi-national body. That has members of the Internet community and some politicians concerned. They believe that the US government has shown itself to be neutral in the management of DNS and that a multi-national body might ultimately be controlled by countries hostile to the interests of a free and open internet. Others in the Internet community believe that the US government may at some point be hostile to their interests.
This is a bit more than us vs. them. It is about trying to ensure fairness in the governance of the Internet. Fairness also impacts cyber security. What if one group – be it a country or rogue actors – could control access to information by controlling DNS. In Learning Tree’s System and Network Security Introduction, we discuss how a malicious actor can disrupt DNS. An individual with authoritative control of DNS could, of course, do it more easily.
There are good arguments on both sides of this debate. Now that it’s a “done deal”, I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below.