Disintegration of the World Wide Web

The BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), which represent the emerging major economies of the world are planning to create their own DNS routing. DNS (Domain Name System) is the large database that associates IP addresses with specific web site or with physical hardware like routers or computers. There is currently one worldwide DNS system that is used to route all Internet traffic.

Russia approved this change in October and set a deadline of August 1, 2018 to have the alternate DNS system online. The reason Russia gives for the change is that the West has the power to disrupt their Internet by changing the current DNS system. While that’s true, the US no longer controls DNS routing and handed over the operation of DNS last year to ICANN, an international coalition of many countries, including the BRICS members.

But there is a lot more to this than just fear of having DNS cut off to a given country and that excuse is mostly just a political cover story. A BRICS DNS system would give the member companies total control over the Internet routing within their country. Many countries already curtail and block some Internet usage today, with the most prominent example being the Great Firewall of China. The Chinese control web usage by monitoring and intercepting traffic at Internet hubs.

But control of DNS is a more foolproof way for a country to curtail web usage. If they block a website from the DNS system then it no longer exists within the country and there is no backdoor way to get to such web sites. Controlling the DNS gives a country complete control of what’s allowed on the web. DNS control would make it easy to block a company like Google, a topic such as politics or pornography, or even traffic from an entire other country from participating in the web within a country.

Controlling the DNS also would allow a country to maintain web sites within the country that could not be reached from outside the country. That would be a safer way for a country to keep information away from cyberhackers, or to just hide websites from foreigners.

Another benefit to controlling DNS is that it can be used to control the dark web. DNS could be used to make the dark web disappear within a country. Or it could alternatively be used to allow it, but make it open to inspection. A country controlling the DNS could also establish a new dark web specific to their country to be used by the government or anybody else they favor.

The BRICS countries say that they would only initially use an alternate DNS to use in case of some DNS emergency, like an external cyberattack. But the it’s going to be hard for regimes like China or Russia to pass up the temptation to take more control over the web and over their citizens. For example, controlling the DNS would allow for an easy way to squelch on-line dissent.

This change would be the first real splintering of the web. Until now come countries like China have blocked web sites and restricted access to some parts of the web. But taking control of DNS lets a country go further to micromanage the web within their country. And that ability is going to tempting to any repressive regime.

Once this happens there is really nothing to stop other countries or regions to also create their own DNS. And that means we no longer would have a worldwide web, but rather a series of separate webs that share selectively with each other. That would disadvantage the whole world in countless ways.

Broadband Shorts – March 2017

Today I’m writing about a few interesting topics that are not long enough to justify a standalone blog:

Google Scanning Non-user Emails. There has been an ongoing class action lawsuit against Google for scanning emails from non-Google customers. Google has been open for years about the fact that they scan email that originates through a Gmail account. The company scans Gmail for references to items that might be of interest to advertisers and then sell that condensed data to others. This explains how you can start seeing ads for new cars after emailing that you are looking for a new car.

There are no specific numbers available for how much they make from scanning Gmail, but this is part of their overall advertising revenues which were $79.4 billion for 2016, up 18% over 2015.  The class action suit deals with emails that are sent to Gmail users from non-Gmail domains. It turns out that Google scans these emails as well, although non-Gmail users have never agreed to the terms of service that applies to Gmail users. This lawsuit will be an important test of customer privacy rights, particularly if Google loses and appeals to a higher court. This is a germane topic right now since the big ISPs are all expected to do similar scanning of customer data now that the FCC and Congress have weakened consumer privacy rights for broadband.

Verizon FiOS and New York City. This relationship is back in the news since the City is suing Verizon for not meeting its promise to bring broadband to everybody in the city in 2008. Verizon has made FiOS available to 2.2 million of the 3.3 million homes and businesses in the city.

The argument is one of the definition of a passing. Verizon says that they have met their obligation and that the gap is due to landlords that won’t allow Verizon into their buildings. But the city claims that Verizon hasn’t built fiber on every street in the city and also that the company has often elected to not enter older buildings due to the cost of distributing fiber inside the buildings. A number of landlords claim that they have asked Verizon into their buildings but that the company either elected to not enter the buildings or else insisted on an exclusive arrangement for broadband services as a condition for entering a building.

New Applications for Satellite Broadband.  The FCC has received 5 new applications for launching geostationary satellite networks bringing the total requests up to 17. Now SpaceX, OneWeb, Telesat, O3b Networks and Theia Holdings are also asking permission to launch satellite networks that would provide broadband using the V Band of spectrum from 37 GHz to 50 GHz. Boeing also expanded their earlier November request to add the 50.4 GHz to 52.4 GHz bands. I’m not sure how the FCC picks winners from this big pile – and if they don’t we are going to see busy skies.

Anonymous Kills 20% of Dark Web. Last month the hackers who work under the name ‘Anonymous’ knocked down about 20% of the web sites from the dark web. The hackers were targeting cyber criminals who profit from child pornography. Of particular interest was a group known as Freedom Hosting, a group that Anonymous claims has over 50% of their servers dedicated to child pornography.

This was the first known major case of hackers trying to regulate the dark web. This part of the Internet is full of pornography and other kinds of criminal content. The Anonymous hackers also alerted law enforcement about the content they uncovered.