RealTime IT News

Is ICANN Finding Itself Again?

Registrars attending the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) meetings this week came away pleased with the actions taken by the often-criticized organization.

ICANN, the technical governing body for the U.S. root server used by most Internet users around the world, has been criticized in past years for its attempts to dictate Internet policy, outside its technical mandate, to a worldwide audience.

The "Security and Stability of the Inernet Naming and Address Allocation Systems" series of meetings, held Monday through Thursday, were a hasty change from normal ICANN meetings because of the events of Sept. 11. The revamped itinerary was seen as a good sign by some registrars that ICANN was getting back to its roots.

Elana Broitman, register.com director of policy and public affairs, said ICANN's decision to abbreviate other Internet policy meetings, like the highly controversial at-large study committee report, was a wise decision.

"I think the meetings went well this week, it gave ICANN a chance to refocus on the fundamental matters on the Internet, because, as you know, if the Internet falls down and goes boom, none of these other issues really matter," she said.

Some, however, feel ICANN needs to further refocus its energies on technical matters like securing the Internet to retain its legitimacy in the worldwide community.

Brad Copeland, spokesperson for registrar New.net, said he observed several people standing up at public meetings asking ICANN's board of directors to restate the organization's charter as a technical body.

"(Board members) seemed to think this was almost a no-brainer, a few wondering why they needed to," Copeland said. "But therein lies the problem. The people requesting the restatement clearly feel that ICANN has well exceeded its narrow technical mandate and needs to pull back. The board thinks they're acting within that narrow vision of ICANN. So both groups are nodding at each other, happy, but the two are talking about very different visions."

Throughout the week, ICANN staffers and technical experts met in public and private venues to discuss the security and stability of the Internet, a network of computers that now looks paper-fragile after the events in September.

Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA), chairman of the committee on energy and commerce, speaking before the subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection Wednesday, said that businesses are responsible for restoring security to Internet.

"The success of Internet services and commerce depends directly on how security is handled by the private sector," Tauzin said. "For instance, how comfortable and confident consumers and businesses feel with how information is protected is dependent on the level of security utilized by American business. Unlike national security issues, which are the responsibility of the Federal government, the structure of the Internet primarily owned and run by the private companies -- requires private sector innovation and leadership."

Registrars have answered a call by ICANN board members to put their whois databases in escrow to ensure information isn't lost in the event of a catastrophe. Whois is a database utility that returns the name and address information of a particular domain's owner.

Until now, registrars never thought of using a data escrow service because "it's very expensive to maintain," register.com's Broitman said. Every week, register.com and other registrars will upload their database to either a third party escrow company or ICANN.

Broitman said the registrar plans to be the first to announce an agreement with a third-party escrow company in the coming weeks.

The registrars now look at escrow services as a necessary evil after Sept. 11, realizing if something ever happened to the whois database, thousands of domain name holders would be left stranded in cyberspace.

An upcoming registry is already getting nods from the Internet community for its security and privacy standards.

The third new domain extension of seven approved by ICANN last year, .pro, is set to begin sunrise and land rush registrations sometime in the first half of next year. RegistryPro, .pro's steward, has already established guidelines to prevent private material from getting loose on the Internet.

"Most registries have a name that resolves anywhere on the Internet, like .com and .net," said Sloan Gaon, RegistryPro chief executive officer. "With RegistryPro, we looked outside the box to provide utilities for the registrant. Just having the domain name is not enough. So we're targeting doctors, lawyers and accountants who need to have secure Internet and email applications."

To do that, Gaon and company have come up with a three-step process to validate .pro candidates"

  • Domain name registration
  • Authentication and verification; proof is required for all doctors, lawyers and accountants candidates, requiring a background check to organizations like the American Medical Association.
  • Issuing a client digital certificate to all .pro domain name holders, as proof of their credentials.

While it will certainly be a pricey process, Gaon said the safeguards are necessary to build trust in consumer community that their records won't find their way on a bulletin board.

"We're very much a registry that's looking at the security of the Internet as well as privacy to make sure that doctors, lawyers and accountants, when they have an online presence, can have a domain that's secure and trustworthy," he said.