Domination of Centralized Domains — The Internet’s Weakest Link

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the domain overseer and DNS overlord, was in the spotlight recently due to a request from Mykhailo Fedorov, Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine, demanding that the organization disables country code top-level domains (ccTLD) associated with Russia [1].

Mykhailo Albertovych Fedorov
Mykhailo Albertovych Fedorov

Specifically, Fedorov requested ICANN revoke domains “.ru,” “.рф,” “.su,” and others and shutting down DNS root servers serving the Russian Federation. He also demanded the revocation of associated TLS/SSL certificates for those domains.

Though ICANN turned down the request in this instance they could have granted the request, and still could with enough pressure brought to bear. This brings to the forefront the importance and crucial need in advocating for the decentralization of domains. Decentralized domains are the timely need of the hour.

Importance of decentralization

Many have long been concerned and have warned that reliance on a single, bureaucratic organization to oversee the DNS root and assign top-level domains is dangerous. There is a worry that ICANN could decide, perhaps under pressure from certain governments or corporations, to censor the internet by removing names from the DNS or by prohibiting the use of specific names.

Decentralizing the Internet eliminates the monopoly of the management of domain names and top-level domains. Moreover, with no special interest governing authority controlling anything, the registrants have complete autonomy, ownership and administration of their domains.

Risks of traditional centralized bodies

In the traditional centralized DNS, while ICANN is responsible for allocating two-letter country codes, it is also in charge of managing the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) who remain in control of a single authoritative root.

IANA, in the past, has managed situations with the reassignment of TLDs and retired country codes. However, in the current escalating crisis between Russia and Ukraine, a centralized body with authority to revoke any country code top-level domain (ccTLDs) is alarming.

Traditional centralized bodies

Advocates in the conflict have put forward strong views for ICANN’s consideration to disable Russian TLDs, citing they are being used to propagandize their war efforts. Should ICANN move towards such a measure it will amply demonstrate the risk of websites being under control of centralized bodies.

The battle to control ICANN

It is a widely-held belief that the Internet should not fall under the control of any one stakeholder, whether such is an individual, an entity or any government. Currently, ICANN’s policymaking is characterized by a ‘multi-stakeholder governance model’ and bottom-up decision-making processes. Its policies are initiated and developed within supporting organizations whose members represent both commercial and non-commercial interests of the DNS.

While it is not ICANN’s job to regulate content online, there are concerns that this could come about through shared international control of the DNS. There are also concerns regarding ICANN’s decision-making ability on controversial matters, as any domain-level takedowns could lead to violations over freedom of speech. More importantly leading countries can team up, based on their global power structure, and manipulate ICANN and IANA to revoke TLDs of other countries, groups, businesses or individuals.

Dilemma and impact of retired TLDs

With ICANN controlling ccTLDs, the possible threat of losing them and consequential impact to businesses is evident. If the Russian TLDs are disabled, about five million domains from the global internet would be blocked and significantly affect Russia’s existence.

Meanwhile all domains are not owned but only leased to the holder, and extraordinary damage can occur because only a handful of organizations have been charged with keeping the DNS working and secure.

By decentralizing domains, the owner of the related domain and top-level domain have complete control over its access and usage. Thus it offers protection from outsiders trying to exploit the DNS’s security framework and from authorities hoping to use it to block free expression on a free internet.

[1] https://www.theregister.com/2022/03/01/ukraine_icann_domains/

Disclaimer: This blog explains the consequences of using centralized domains which are dominated by biased organizations and not intended nor created to support the war or subsequent invasive actions of Russian government.

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Decentralized Internet Governed by Community