2600 has learned that the FBI is having little success in its attempts to investigate an Internet attack which happened last Tuesday. During the attack, the servers which form the root of the DNS (domain name system) hierarchy were flooded with ICMP messages, diminishing their capacity to service legitimate requests. The DNS translates Internet host names into their numeric addresses.
Although the Internet - as a network - is decentralized by nature, the DNS root is based on a small number of servers and one central database. The system was conceived at Berkeley in the 1980's in a "drunken rage" with little thought to its longevity in the face of political and technical threats. After the untimely death of Internet pioneer and original DNS bureaucrat Jon Postel, control of the system has been shuffled into the hands of less honorable people.
Last week's attack may be a denouncement of the DNS's present-day mismanagement. On the Internet, the DNS is today where corrupt bodies like ICANN (whose board rivals Enron's in dishonesty) exercise their mechanisms of control. Weaknesses in the DNS protocol are also a boon to the intelligence community, and DNS root server "A" is operated by NSA sock-puppet VeriSign. These factors are all part of why the DNS - which ISC engineer Paul Vixie calls a "modern cockroach" - has not been easy to supercede.
Denial-of-service attacks are often frowned upon by hackers because they usually restrict access instead of creating new knowledge. However, this particular attack may have occurred to teach us a lesson - that the Internet is overdue to shed the bureaucratic and vulnerable DNS.
Technically and politically, replacing the DNS had proven to be no small challenge. A series of projects meant to reform the nature of the DNS have been unsuccessful for various reasons. But with the present system potentially on the blink, its replacement cannot be postponed much longer. More than ever before, it is time for inventive minds to think about alternatives, and for government to finally listen.