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Friday, July 30, 2010

Seven Key Masters Have the Power to Restart the Internet

By Emerald Catron
From: http://www.asylum.com/

Paul Kane -- internet key holderWhen that fateful day comes where you find yourself suddenly unable to harp on your fantasy league because the Internet has been hijacked, fear not. There's a plan for that.

Basically, scattered across the globe are seven key holders who must come together and combine their powers to summon Gozer recreate the Domain Name System (DNS) security root key, a security measure that ensures websites are authentic and not just pirate copies. Because when you go to www.hungryforwaffles.com, you want it to really be your number one source for waffle information, not just some poseur copy.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) wants to secure the DNS, which is basically like the internet version of a phone book -- it takes domain names and translates them into IP addresses for the Internet to understand. Of course, since we're talking about technical Internet matters, their methods get dorky real fast, with lots of acronyms and "ceremonies" and unnecessary capitalization befitting the lifestyle of somebody who would volunteer to help protect the Domain Name System.

The seven mythical key holders are just one third of 21 Trusted Community Representatives (TCRs) who are necessary for root key generation and signing ceremonies. These guys were selected based on "Statements of Interest" solicited from the "Internet Community," yet, somehow, Pedobear is nowhere to be found among their numbers. ICANN was looking for "Persons of integrity, objectivity, and intelligence, with reputations for sound judgment and open minds." We didn't even know there were 21 people like that on the Internet.

The 14 TCRs who aren't Recovery Key Share Holders (or Keymasters, as we like to call them for dramatic flair) are called "Crypto Officers." They get the "cool" name because they have to do all the actual work, rather than having the Internet fall in love with them for keeping a smart card in a Ziploc baggie somewhere.

The Crypto Officers (a name which suggests that this really is just a bunch of AV guys who want to feel awesome) get a key to a physical deposit box in an ICANN facility that contains the credentials needed to enable the security measure that contains the private half of the root the 7 Keymasters come together to create the other half of. They are divided up equally between East and West coast facilities and actually have to travel and do stuff a few times a year without splitting our country in half via hip hop feuding.

The mythical keymasters are divided up across the globe, and each possesses a smart card that has been encoded with a part of the root key. Five of the seven members have to meet in the U.S. in the event that the DNS Security Extensions (DNSSEC) has had to sever the connections between important servers to contain the damage caused by fancy-free, rollerblading hackers. As proof that they haven't lost the cards in a poker game, the key holders must send in a picture of the card along with a special secret phrase once a year.

We'd love to imagine that the people who hold these keys -- one each in the U.S., U.K., China, Trinidad and Tobago, Burkina Faso, the Czech Republic, and Canada -- are all mysterious men in long, dark, face-concealing robes whose identities must remain forever secret to protect the Internet.

Truthfully, however, they're more like Paul Kane -- an old blond guy in a suit. So typical of the Internet -- always building up our hopes for something awesome, and then dashing them against the ground without a moment's hesitation. For another example, www.hungryforwaffles.com isn't even a website, it's just something we made up as a joke. Lousy Internet.

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