By Dave Avran
DO you know that the Internet has its own select group of seven individuals worldwide who hold the keys to protect the Web after a disaster? It may sound like the plot of a science fiction movie, but Internet security experts say it’s part of a real effort to bolster security online.
The fellowship isn’t exactly secretive and the keys aren’t really keys because they’re smartcards embedded with pieces of a security code. But the seven chosen from different parts of the world play a valuable role in a new system to make websites safer and less vulnerable to attacks.
Dan Kaminsky, one of the seven and a prominent computer security expert, says that the system makes use of a principle that goes all the way back to the Founding Fathers. The power to protect the system is split among seven people so that no one person can abuse that power.
The idea is that the only force that could bring the key holders together would be a legitimate force. The only thing everyone has in common is the desire for the common good. Kaminsky says that though the seven-person structure recalls the famous fellowships of history and literature, this new brotherhood is actually quite prosaic.
Richard Lamb, programme manager for the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an international Internet oversight group, says that his group began the launch of a new security system called DNSSEC (Domain Name System Security Extensions) which makes sure Web users reach the sites they want, and prevents cyber criminals from redirecting users to malicious websites.
To win confidence from countries, companies and individuals worldwide, ICANN recruited 21 people from around the globe to help keep the system up and running. Seven of them hold the keys to restart the system in case of a disaster.
In the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster that threatens the DNSSEC, five of the seven would meet in one physical location. The code from the five smartcards will be combined to help re-launch the system.
Since no one trusts anyone completely on the Internet, the only way to create a key that the Internet will trust, and therefore use, is to have no one party control it. That’s the idea behind requiring the participation of international representatives from the Internet technical community.
Although the plan conjures up images of mythical proportions — all of cyberspace, saved by a few brave souls — the chances of the five ever convening post-crisis are pretty slim. The system does not keep the entire Internet running but rather maintains a layer of security for it.
This is something that is only used in extreme cases of disaster response, and only then would five of the seven be called. Still, the seven individuals were carefully chosen to make sure different parts of the world were represented.
In addition to Kaminsky, who was chosen from the United States, other members are Paul Kane from the United Kingdom, Bevil Wooding from Trinidad and Tobago, Jiankang Yao of China, Moussa Guebre from Burkina Faso, Norm Ritchie of Canada and Ondrej Sury of the Czech Republic.
All of them volunteered to take part and CANN chose them because of their technical expertise Membership isn’t for life. While ICANN is still figuring out details, they hope to cycle through different volunteers of the worldwide technology community.
The domain name system stores Internet addresses and, according to ICANN, is queried up to a trillion times a day by the 1.8 billion Internet users around the world. The DNSSEC marks a new generation of cyber security systems.
A cyber criminal can steal our money and our personal data without us even knowing it. Cyber crime doesn’t respect national boundaries. This upgrade will shut the door for those around the world who hope to exploit this crucial part of the Internet infrastructure to steal from unsuspecting people.