DW reported today information from wxperts that Russia is planning the next step in making the country independent from the West, at least in cyberspace: Moscow wants to install its own root servers. But why, and does it make any sense?
According to a report by the RBK web portal, Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017 ordered his government to negotiate independent root name servers for the so-called domain name system (DNS) with the BRICS states, which apart from Russia include Brazil, India, China and South Africa, by August 2018. These servers contain global databases of public IP addresses and their host names.
If Russia had its own root servers, it could create a kind of internet of its own, experts say.
Russia’s plans go right to the root of the internet. The world’s entire communication between computers uses all of 13 DNS root servers. The computers store the so-called zone files of top level domains (TLD) like .com (worldwide), .de for Germany or .ru for Russia. Ten root servers are located in the US, one each in The Netherlands, Sweden and Japan. In addition, there are hundreds of anycast server networks worldwide, ten of them in Russia alone.
All root servers are independent. Until September 2016, the US government had oversight over the A root server, which stores the DNS master copy. Now an ICANN subsidiary is responsible for that server. ICANN’s contract with the US Department of Commerce ended in 2016, and today, the corporation is a private non-profit company based in California headed by a 20-member board that includes experts from all over the world.
The reason given is the “dominance of the US and a few EU states concerning internet regulation” which Russia sees as a “serious danger” to its safety, RBK quotes from minutes taken at a meeting of the Russian Security Council. Having its own root servers would make Russia independent of monitors like the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and protect the country in the event of “outages or deliberate interference.”
“There’s no off-switch,” said ICANN Chief Technology Officer David Conrad. In theory, he explained, the US government could force ICANN, a US-based firm, to influence the top level domain concerning Russia, for instance to take the .ru from the root server, adding that connections would become more difficult but overall, it would have a limited effect.
The DNS, Conrad said, is based on trust. “If the US government were do anything as crazy” as meddling with the root server, he explained, that trust would be gone, and alternative root servers would crop up. The damage to the internet as a global market place and means of communication would surpass the benefit, he concluded.