The Internet Is Actually Controlled By 14 People Who Hold 7 Secret Keys
This sounds like something out of a Dan Brown book, but it isn’t: The whole Internet is controlled by seven actual, physical keys.
The people conducting the ceremony are part of an organization called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN is responsible for assigning numerical Internet addresses to websites and computers and translating them into the normal web addresses that people type into their browsers.
For instance, type 126.96.36.199 into your browser, and you’ll be taken to Business Insider’s web page. Butis easier for people to remember. ICANN maps the numbers (easier for computers to use) with words (easier for humans to use).
If someone were to gain control of ICANN’s database, that person would control the Internet. For instance, the person could send people to fake bank websites instead of real bank websites.
On the other hand, if a calamity happened, the ICANN database could need to be rebuilt. So ICANN came up with a way to do that without entrusting too much control to any one person. It selected seven people as key holders and gave each one an actual key to Internet. It selected seven more people to be backup keyholders: 14 people in all.
The physical keys unlock safe deposit boxes stashed around the world. Inside those boxes are smart keycards. Put the seven smartcards together and you have the „master key.” The master key is really some computer code, a password of sorts, that can access the ICANN database.
Four times a year since 2010 the seven keyholders meet for the key ceremony where they generate a new master key, i.e. a new password.
The security to be admitted to the ceremony is intense, Ball reports, and involves passing through a series of locked doors using key codes and hand scanners, until entering a room so secure that no electronic communications can escape it.
The group conducts the ritual, then each person files out of the room one by one, and then they all head to a restaurant and party.
Here’s a video of the very first key ceremony conducted in 2010. Skip to 1:58 to see the ceremony.
ICANN‚s First DNSSEC Key Ceremony for the Root Zone
The global deployment of Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) will achieve an important milestone on June 16, 2010 as ICANN hosts the first production DNSSEC key ceremony in a high security data centre in Culpeper, VA, outside of Washington, DC.
Secure data center in Culpeper, VA – location of first DNSSEC key signing ceremony
During the key ceremony the first cryptographic digital key used to secure the Internet root zone will be generated and securely stored.
Each key ceremony consists of a series of detailed procedures designed to allow the private key material for the root zone to be managed in a transparent yet secure manner. The goal is for the whole Internet community to be able to trust that the procedures involved were executed correctly, and that the private key materials are stored securely.
Security of the private key is important because it ensures that any signature made by that key is known to originate from a legitimate key ceremony, and not by an untrusted third party.
Each key ceremony will involve ICANN staff together with 14 volunteers known as Trusted Community Representatives (TCRs). Each TCR is a respected member of the technical Domain Name System (DNS) community in their home country. They are also unaffiliated to ICANN, VeriSign or the US Department of Commerce, and have been assigned a separate key management role within the ceremony. The involvement of these independent participants provides transparency of process — a successful key ceremony is only possible if the TCRs involved are satisfied that all steps were executed accurately and correctly. The ceremony and its associated systems and processes will also be subject to a SysTrust audit.
The deployment of DNSSEC in the root zone of the DNS provides benefits for those who publish information in the DNS, and for those who retrieve it. Top-Level Domain (TLD) managers and end-users alike will benefit from being able to publish and locate cryptographic key material („trust anchors”) in the root zone. The root zone provides a consistent and convenient entry point to the security of the whole system.
A second key ceremony will take place in a second secure facility in Los Angeles in early July. By having two complete and independent facilities available, ICANN is able to ensure that key ceremonies can continue to occur in the event of an unexpected disaster in one location. Scheduled key ceremonies will take place four times annually, with two occurring in each location. Full deployment of DNSSEC in the root zone, using the key first generated in Culpeper, is scheduled to take place on July 15, 2010. Extensive documentation and related information about the project can be found at http://www.root-dnssec.org/.