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Who Runs It? Understanding Internet Governance | Hacker Nucleus

In 1998, a computer researcher and a respected leader in the networking a community named Jon Postel sent an innocuous sounding e-mail to eight people. He asked them to reconfigure their servers so that they would direct their Internet traffic using his computer at the University of Southern California rather than a computer in Herndon, Virginia. They did so without question, as Postel (who had been part of the team that set up the original ARPANET) was an icon in the field, who served as a primary administrator for the network’s naming system.

With that one e-mail, Postel committed the first coup d’état of the Internet. The people he had e-mailed ran eight of the twelve organizations that controlled all the name servers—the computers
ultimately responsible for translating a domain name such as “Brookings.edu” into a computer-addressable IP address. And the computer in Virginia that he had steered two-thirds of the Internet’s
root servers away from were controlled by the US government. While Postel would later say he had only seized control of a majority of the Internet’s root servers as a “test,” others think that he did so
in protest, showing the US government “that it couldn’t wrest control of the Internet from the widespread community of researchers who had built and maintained the network over the previous three decades.”

Postel’s “coup” illustrates the crucial role of governance issues even for a technical space. As the Internet has grown from a small research network to the global underpinning of our digital society,
questions of who runs it have become more and more important. Or, as Eric Schmidt (who went on to become the CEO of a little firm known as Google) told a 1997 programmers conference in San
Francisco, “The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.” Since digital resources are not “scarce” like traditional resources, its governance questions are a bit different. That is, the main questions of
Internet governance is of interoperability and communication rather than the classic issue of distribution, which has consumed political thinkers from Socrates to Marx. However, even in a digital world of seemingly endless resources, traditional issues of governance also arise in cyberspace, including representation, power, and legitimacy.

Key decision chokepoints revolve around the technical standards for interoperability, the distribution of IP numbers that gives computers an address allowing them to send and receive packets, and the management of the Internet’s naming system. Interestingly enough, it is this final category, the intersection of the technical and nontechnical aspect of naming, that has produced the most conflict.

The operations of the Internet require independent actors to follow basic rules that guarantee interoperability, known as standards. This standards-based approach goes back to the beginning of the Internet when the engineers building the initial systems published Requests For Comments (RFCs) to seek feedback on proposed standards. Over time, this group of network engineers and researchers grew into an international, voluntary standards organization called the Internet.

Engineering Task Force (IETF). The IETF develops new Internet standards and protocols and modifies existing ones for better performance. Everything developed by the IETF falls under specific working groups that concentrate on areas like routing, applications, and infrastructure. These groups are open forums that work mostly through mailing lists, and anyone is welcome to participate. Many of the individuals in them are from large technology firms, but no one actor or small party can steamroll the process, which relies on consensus. Openness and even a sense of whimsy are critical to the culture of the IETF.

In some working group meetings, the members decide on an issue by humming for or against a proposal. The proposal with the loudest hum advantage wins. While it sounds a bit silly, it is seen as a way of maintaining the original Internet creators’ ethic of fostering consensus and reaching decisions relatively quickly. The volume of the humming also helps maintain a level of anonymity, unless you abuse the system: That is, you can humor not without opening your mouth, but it’s hard to hum louder to dominate a vote without being too obvious about it, which would cause a backlash.

Despite the sense of fun that can drive working groups members, security is a principle concern in the system. In addition to working groups focused on particular security issues, every proposed
standard must have an explicit “Security Considerations” section. Additionally, a security directorate reviews all proposed standards passed from the working groups to the Steering Group.

The key takeaway of these governance issues for cyber security is not just the important role that trust and open-mindedness have played in the Internet’s growth (aspects that are challenged by
growing security concerns) but that the Internet has always been recognized as a space that defies traditional governance models. In 1992, Internet pioneer David Clark of MIT set out his bold dictum
for the community:

Refrences: Cyber-Security & Cyber War

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