Tech4Biz | 30 Jun 2010 :
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) held a major conference in Brussels in June, with several announcements arising. However, despite the apparent progress, one attendee, Blacknight
CEO Michele Neylon was a cautious in welcoming the developments.
The conference opened with ICANN president Rod Beckstrom calling for greater cooperation between interested parties.
Citing his "strong personal commitment to ensuring the security, stability and unity of the global Internet", Beckstrom argued for more cooperation among international Internet bodies. "ICANN cannot resolve these issues alone. We need to work within our family of organisations - large and small, formal and informal - to draw on the wealth of expertise around us."
"ICANN's mission is to ensure a secure, stable and unified global Internet. We must be an active catalyst for its defence," he continued. "Our assumption must be that security can always be improved."
With security in mind, one of the first announcements from the conference was the implementation of Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) for the .org top level domain (TLD).
"We are proud to take this next step in DNSSEC deployment and transform the vision of a safer Internet into a reality," said Alexa Raad, CEO of .org, The Public Interest Registry. "The public's interest is at the core of our mission at .org- especially as Internet usage continues to grow exponentially. DNSSEC serves as tamperproof packaging for DNS by not only preventing identity theft as a result of "man-in-the-middle attacks", but also enabling innovation in applications that rely on DNS."
Neylon said that DNSSEC allows zones to be signed from the root downwards, so you get a "chain of trust" that can do away with so called "man in the middle" attacks. He points out that while this is a crucial step towards more secure domains, a critical piece of the infrastructure necessary is missing.
"DNSSEC is a wonderful idea," said Neylon, "but until such time as browsers support it, it is of no use to end users."
"At the moment there is no tangible impact for the normal end user," he continued. "You'll see .com and .net being signed within the next few months."
"Until such time as browsers and other bits of software start to indicate to an end user that they are visiting a DNSSEC signed domain or not, it makes no difference."
Another major announcement from the conference was the inclusion of Chinese domains in the internationalised domain names (IDN) lists, with .cn (China), .hk (Hon Kong) and .tw (Taiwan). This means that these domains can be accessed using Chinese script, following on from earlier implementations that included Cyrillic and Arabic script.
Once again, Neylon said that there is another dimension to the story. Despite the apparent progress in the inclusion of Chinese IDNs, recent events behind the scenes with .cn domains, reports Neylon, have meant that the new IDNs may have a slightly delayed uptake. Neylon said that after initial easing of the process for getting a .cn name, there was an explosion in demand and grants of .cn domains that resulted in it being dropped by many registrars. After becoming the biggest TLD in the world for a while, regulations were tightened again and now it is very difficult to get a .cn domain name which may dissipate some of the demand that will result from the IDN development.
Perhaps the most controversial announcement from the conference was the declaration by the ICANN board that it is pressing ahead with process that would see a new sponsored TLD (sTLD), that of .xxx for adult material.
The story of .xxx is a long and convoluted one, with interest groups as far apart as the adult entertainment industry and the far right religious groups in America opposing it.
The original domain request was made by ICM Registry as far back as 2004, from an earlier submitted concept in 2000. The proposal elicited a massive amount of interest, and protest, as the adult entertainment industry expressed concerns that the move would ‘ghettoise' their industry and lead to further regulation and censorship, while many conservative and religious groups expressed concerns that the TLD would make pornography more prevalent and harder to control. In 2005 apparent approval for the TLD was called into question and in 2007 was rejected, citing ICM's "failure to meet the sponsored community criteria specified in the sTLD criteria".
ICM appealed this decision and the matter was put before an independent review board. A meeting in March of ICANN deferred a decision until the Brussels meeting in June. The current announcement has been widely reported by the press as the go ahead for .xxx, but Neylon warns that this is not entirely the case.
ICANN's announcement said that it is making several resolutions which can be summarised as follows. Firstly, that it will accept the findings of the independent review board which said that the .xxx application had met its sponsorship criteria to be a sTLD. Secondly, that there would be a swift review of the application to ensure that no changes made in intervening times, and following this contract negotiations could begin. However, potential stumbling blocks could occur at the next stage. Once a contract is agreed, ICANN said that if in its opinion the contract did not meet the advice of the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), a key protester in the 2007 rejection, then "mediation" with the GAC will begin. While ICM has expressed confidence that this will not cause problems, doubts remain.
However, if the process outlined goes smoothly, .xxx could be a sponsored top level domain as soon as early 2011.