DNS — root concern for Pacific

Root server vulnerability concerns raised during UN internet governance forum

Bandwidth markets and the price of international connectivity emerged as major concerns for New Zealand and other Pacific nations at the recent United Nations' online forum on internet governance.

The five-week forum was part of the Open Regional Dialogue on Internet Governance (ORDIG). This is an initiative of the UN Development Programme’s Asia-Pacific development information stream. The forum kicked off on January 13. The dialogue featured a variety of stakeholders, including internet service providers, consumers of internet services and those involved with governing the internet.

Those from the Asia-Pacific region shared a number of concerns, including the vulnerabilities of root servers. They questioned whether the current system of 13 separately managed root-server operators was more vulnerable to attack than “a more controlled and homogeneous system.” There was also concern that the concentration of servers in the United States — 10 of 13 — was problematic from the point of view of geographic diversity. However, discussion about the Anycast mirroring system, which ensures that there are effectively more than 80 root servers or mirrors — divided roughly equally between the US and other locations — helped allay some of these fears.

But, while geographical diversity was seen as a strength, diversity in types of root server-operating bodies was seen as a potential weakness. Some contributors had a misguided idea as to the ability of Icann to enforce, (or even encourage the take-up of) minimum standards in this area.

A particular concern to Pacific island representatives was their unfortunate dependence on C-band satellite connectivity. They were also concerned about there being insufficient undersea fibre reaching their part of the world. Pricing was also an issue with national telecomms monopolies having as much impact as international pricing when it came to increasing the cost of bandwidth in the Pacific.

Domain-name system problems were another issue with extensive misunderstandings about control of the domain-name system being reported. There were accounts of grave difficulty in ensuring continuity of DNS service in such country-code, top-level domains as Bangladesh (.bd) and the Philippines (.ph). Again, there seemed to be too much faith in Icann's ability to establish a minimum standard.

The responsibility of ISPs when it came to users publishing illegal or questionable material on the internet was also much discussed. ISPs were asked to take a more “proactive” approach in setting up and in enforcing acceptable use provisions (AUPs).

Safe harbour provisions, which require ISPs to act on reasonable notice but not to be liable for anything they don't know about, were also discussed. “We heard that a risk of a proactive approach versus relying on safe harbour [provisions] was that the ISP had to make judgements about what is a liability. It becomes 'judge and jury' in matters of law, and if it gets it wrong it may as a result lose the safe harbour protection,” the discussion digest says.

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