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.
Published in the Feb. 24, 1997 Isuue of The Washington Weekly Copyright 1997 The Washington Weekly (http://www.federal.com)