The Washington Weekly - Feb. 24, 1997
Copyright 1997 The Washington Weekly (http://www.federal.com)


    The War on the Internet Has Begun
    Revolt brewing against government control



When the major defense and intelligence contractor SAIC in 1995 bought
the small Herndon, VA company that has the government contract on name
service for the entire Internet, alarm bells went off all over the
Internet. The move would give the intelligence community complete
control over the Internet. They could, in essence, black out the entire
Internet with the flick of a switch. Or, they could subvert the Internet
by falsifying information in the root level domain name servers. A
real-time, clandestine censorship of hosts with troublesome information.

Those fears came true last week when the SAIC-controlled servers started
returning false information in response to automatic host lookup
requests. For many hosts on the Internet, the name servers simply
claimed that they did not exist.

Name servers are used every time a web browser or an email program looks
for a host on the Internet. The servers are the phone directory for the
Internet, listing the Internet number for every host. The top level
servers, that keep information about the structure of the entire
directory, are run at Internic which is an operation of Network
Solutions Inc., owned by SAIC Inc. SAIC past and current board members
include such intelligence community notorieties as Bobby Ray Inman,
former director of the National Security Agency, deputy director of the
CIA, director of national security contractor E-Systems, and Clinton
defense secretary nominee; Robert Gates, the former CIA director under
George Bush; current CIA director John Deutch; Anita Jones, Deutch's
former Pentagon procurement officer, and William Perry, the former
secretary of defense.

It is possible that a simple technical problem is the cause of the
erroneous information currently supplied by Internic name servers, but
it seems very unlikely. First, root name servers have run on the
Internet for almost 30 years without problems. The server software is
tried an tested. Second, Internic charges such exorbitant prices for its
services, $50 per listing per year, that it can easily afford a
completely fault-tolerant system that is infallible. Estimates for
revenues of the Internic reach $60 million for just one year of running
the root name server.

Operations staff at Internic did not respond to a Washington Weekly
request for information on the nature of the problems.

The poor quality of service, the high prices that it charges from every
host on the Internet, and the monopoly status of this government
contractor has spawned outrage on the Internet, which is now in near
revolt. Several groups have started offering alternative top level name
servers that bypass the government registry completely. These groups
advocate a free market solution to Internet name directories, with
system administrators choosing from a number of competing name servers
on the Internet. One group is Alternic at http://www.alternic.net/,
another is eDNS at http://www.edns.net. A press release from one of the
groups behind these efforts is included in the Information section of
this issue.

In China, the government last year required all Internet users to
register with the police, facilitating government control of this
potentially dangerous medium. In the U.S., the government instead
requires Internet users to register with a government national security
contractor.

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