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Breaking the Internet HOWTO

A number of people, notably Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Information Society and Media, have been asking about how to Break The Internet. Since Mme Reding seems to have absolutely no prior experience in the Information Technology, Computing or Telecommunications industries, I have prepared this brief HOWTO.

1. Declare the creation of a new Root Zone.

This is the easy bit - all you have to do is spout great volumes of hot air at a conference in Geneva, and then storm out in a huff when other people refuse to take you seriously. Then you get the PFY who services your photocopier to declare the creation of a new European Root Zone! Hooray!

2. Build the network of Root Servers.

This is somewhat more difficult. What you really need to do is get some ISPs and universities to agree to host a root server. Unfortunately, the people who work at these institutions have an overdeveloped sense of their own competence, what with all those years of experience, PhDs in Engineering and Computing, and having helped build the Internet in the first place (perish the thought that technologists have a better understanding of technology than you! After all, you have a doctorate in “Human Sciences”! Science! That’s better than technology!). So you have two options to persuade them to cooperate: Bludgeon Them With Bureaucracy, or Bribe Them With Cold, Hard Cash. The choice of which option is left as an exercise for the reader.

3. Establish your Oversight Body.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper, multi-lateral institution without an Oversight Body, with lots of committees and sub-committees and working groups and all that stuff - after all, your friends and relatives need jobs too! And those ICANN types get to go on nice junkets to exotic places three times a year, so you should do that too. Then let China be the chair of the freedom of expression Working Group, and let Iran look after the anti-terrorism group! Now all you need to do is get Switzerland to oversee Maritime DNS policies, and you’re set!

4. Create the Root Zone File.

This is the fun part! You get to decide what goes in and what stays out. I suppose .COM, .NET and .ORG will have to stay, but why would any self-respecting European, Chinese, or Iranian ever need to access .GOV or .MIL? And .EDU has to go! Aren’t our universities good enough?

And that ICANN lot are talking about adding in a .JOBS, but it’s an American company, so why don’t you create our own .JOBS TLD and give it so some nice European company? That’s much better!

Oh, and your friends in China are complaining, so you should probably also remove .TW.

5. Get everyone to use the new Root Zone.

At first, this seems like the hardest part. But actually, it’s not. All you need to do is get all the parliaments in all the countries in the EU to pass laws to force all the ISPs, commercial organizations, academic institutions and private citizens in their countries to use the new DNS root, and make it illegal for them to use any other. After all, if you can legislate for straight bananas, you can do this! For the Chinese and Iranians, it’s much easier. If someone complains, they can just execute them. Wouldn’t life be easier if you could do that?

6. Sit back and Watch it Burn.

Right, now you’ve broken the Internet, let’s pass a law to set the value of Pi to be 3! That’ll make things much better!

Disclaimer: This article is entirely a personal opinion and in no way does it reflect the policies or opinions of my employer. This article is also a work of satire, and not even clever satire at that. So don’t take it too seriously.

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Jothan Frakes  –  Oct 12, 2005 4:59 PM

Gavin, this is a great article.  It is both funny and scary, as it reflects what I see people actually doing.

Jothan Frakes  –  Oct 12, 2005 7:22 PM

While we are talking satire here, upon further review, I was able to find a slightly appropriate technical criteria that could be worthwhile…

According to her accolades, Reding played an active role in EPP from 1989 to 1999. (I think it was a different type of EPP than the popular registry provisioning technology, though ;] )

Jothan Frakes  –  Oct 12, 2005 7:37 PM

OK, all joking aside, I can see that Reding should be complimented on her Emergency number unification efforts accross the EU. 

That is something that must be an enormous undertaking, and will directly benefit many people, and should not be taken lightly.  I applaud these efforts.

Joe Baptista  –  Oct 13, 2005 12:18 AM

This is what has happened to the Internet. The creation of additional root zones are causing fractures.  Now lets see how we work together to fix those fractures.

The Famous Brett Watson  –  Oct 13, 2005 1:09 AM

Since sarcasm appears to be on-topic, here’s my (uncharacteristically brief) satirical take on the process.

(Scene: a kindergarten. “US” has the “DNS root” toy, and “EU” wants to play with it.)
EU: “Share!”
US: “No! Mine!”
EU: “Let me play with it!”
US: “No! Mine”
EU: Tries to snatch.
US: “Stop! You’ll break it!”
EU: “Don’t care! Share it!”
US: “No! Mine!”

And so on. I’m getting to the stage where I don’t care if someone breaks it. In fact, I’m getting to the stage where I’ll *dare* people to break it. Go right ahead: throw the DNS into anarchy. It will be a good test of how well the Internet really does “route around” such damage, as the legend goes. Human politics is and will always be the Internet’s greatest natural threat: let’s see how well it stands up to it.

Then again, I’m the kind of meanie that would break a toy in two and hand each of the resulting halves to the squabbling brats in my drama, describing the outcome as “fair”.

Joe Baptista  –  Oct 13, 2005 2:06 PM

I don’t think it’s human politics which is the problem here.  More human nature.  The need to control in a universe where control has been defined as shared in the first place.  We all know governments have serious problems when it comes to the sharing of resources.

I speculate in the final take governments will not be the primary stakeholders at the DNS table.  But they will motivate us to the final conclusion.

Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Oct 14, 2005 11:53 AM

I have serious doubts whether an alternate root zone is being proposed here - but what people are moving extensively forward on is an increased oversight role for other countries’ governments in ICANN.

I have seen suggestions in china and elsewhere on “alternate roots” (or in china’s case, not too long back, “IPv9”.  Mostly, after being widely ridiculed, these turned out to be a local company’s PR hot air, which looked like it had their government’s imprimatur, when all that was the case was that it was a partially / fully state owned company (which one in china isn’t). 

I wonder how you’d distinguish technical proposals actually originating from the chinese government, from those that just look like government sponsored proposals but are actually yet another company with a new vaporware to sell.  I rather suspect the dividing line between the two will wear quite thin if the Chinese so decide, but ...

Juan Golblado  –  Oct 15, 2005 6:42 PM

Well done, Gavin! I thoroughly enjoyed that. It is also good to have it tempered a bit by Jothan Frakes’ recognition of Vivian Reding’s accomplishments. This holds true for the EU as a whole. They’re not a crazy bunch at all, but they have a very different way of going about things than the US.

I was as nonplussed as anyone else by the EU announcement, made, I believe by a member of Tony Blair’s government which holds the rotating EU Council Presidency this semester, which was even more surprising!

To me it seemed completely gratuitous. Why not let this crazy talk by the authoritarians in China, the totalitarians in Iran and the johnny-come-latelies in Brazil just die for lack of response by the powerful and lack of power by the complainaints?

Well, maybe it does have to be dealt with. Maybe the presence of the democratically elected, rational and liberal Brazilian government should tell us something.

I was as comforted as many others here by US Department of Commerce official David Gross’s statement that “The United Nations will not be in charge of the Internet. Period.” And if David Gross wasn’t there saying that I would be scared shitless by Ms. Reding and especially by the collaboration that the normally fairly sensible Blair govt. is giving her.

But in his presence, Ms Reding et al may just represent at least as much an opportunity as a threat. That is certainly what they say they want to do.

Also a great piece on expanding the DNS space by Gavin back in May, too.

Howard Li  –  Oct 20, 2005 8:35 AM

I just want to add a few lines after the kindergarten scene:

(Scene: a kindergarten. “US” has the “DNS root” toy, and “EU” wants to play with it.)
EU: “Share!”
US: “No! Mine!”
EU: “Let me play with it!”
US: “No! Mine”
EU: Tries to snatch.
US: “Stop! You’ll break it!”
EU: “Don’t care! Share it!”
US: “No! Mine!”

Then two kids get into a fight. The teacher (UN) comes in and says:“Don’t fight over a toy! OK, stop! Let me have it, this fight is over!”

Now, just you may have thought, why wouldn’t I share it at the first place?

The Famous Brett Watson  –  Oct 20, 2005 8:58 AM

The teacher (UN) comes in and says:“Don’t fight over a toy! OK, stop! Let me have it, this fight is over!”

Except that in this kindergarten, there are no teachers! The UN is at best “class captain”, and only gets as much respect as he is given. Neither the UN nor the EU have the power to take control of the DNS root without the cooperation of the US, but they do have the power to fragment it.

Probably the only thing holding back any further rough treatment at this point is the fact that the realistic choices are (a) a US-controlled root (status quo), and (b) a fragmented root. Nobody is quite fed up enough with (a) to risk (b) at this time.

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