It’s hard to believe, but the internet – the source of pretty much all knowledge and power in the world – is protected by seven keys held by 14 people.
These seven keys – the other seven people hold back-up keys – create a master key, which controls the Domain Name System (DNS) at the heart of the web.
The DNS is responsible for linking IP addresses, like “126.96.36.199”, with domain names that humans can remember, like Techly.com.au.
DNS is such a major part of the internet, that if someone got control of it they would essentially own the internet. They could misdirect URLs to different IP addresses and gain access to bank accounts, email accounts, internal government sites… You know, the important stuff.
For this reason, the keys and their holders are highly protected.
This group of shadowy key protectors, The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), is made up of are security experts from around the world – their geographical spread is important for safety.
Most members of ICANN meet four times a year, twice on the east coast of the US and twice on the west coast, to confirm the safety and security of their keys, and authenticate the entries in the DNS, which is like checking the phone book still makes sense.
The meetings are more like OTT ceremonies, with extreme security involving key codes, and hand and iris scanners. The meeting itself comprises a complicated series of rituals, in a room that doesn’t allow any electronic communications in or out.
Each key holder owns a metal key to a safety deposit box, each of which contains a smartcard, which controls a machine that creates a new master key – computer code called a root key-signing key – that accesses the ICANN database. At least four members must attend each meeting to be able to access the database.
The complicated event is scripted in advance and schedules are given to all participants, so everyone will know if something changes, and the whole experience is recorded and live-streamed for transparency.
This all sounds pretty intense, until you remember that this is the internet, you guys. And we’re letting some dudes with little keys control it.
The first ever ICANN Key Signing Ceremony was held in 2010, and can be viewed below.