Protection of the Internet’s critical infrastructure is a top priority for the international bodies responsible for managing the Internet. However, important components of key Internet infrastructure are not evenly distributed throughout the world. Emerging markets, in particular, are at a disadvantage as critical Internet infrastructure is largely clustered in developed markets. As the Internet continues to grow, the strengthening and self-sufficiency of national Internet infrastructure assets in underserved regions is a major priority within the global Internet community.
This is the purpose behind an initiative to proliferate an important facility known as root name servers in the Caribbean. Root name servers are an important part of the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS). The DNS is a globally distributed database used to translate a human-understood domain names, such as www.google.com, to a machine-understood Internet Protocol (IP) address like 184.108.40.206. Data packet routing on the Internet is based on these numeric addresses. The DNS is the bridge between underlying networking protocols and the end-user applications such as web browsing and e-mail. This simple role makes the DNS extremely important to the proper functioning of the Internet.
Evening the spread
Currently, there are more than 240 root name server copies around the world, grouped in 13 clusters, operated by various organisations. Ideally, these servers should be distributed in a way that serves the global Internet population in a fair and equitable manner. This, however, is not the case. Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, are some of the most underserved regions in terms of distribution of root name server copies. They are also the regions with the fastest growing Internet populations. A number of organisations has taken tangible steps to address this imbalance.
Among them, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the United States-based body responsible for administering the DNS root; the Internet Society (ISOC), a Geneva-based non-profit whose stated mission is to assure the open development, evolution and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world; and Packet Clearing House (PCH), a US-based non-profit that supports the stability and resilience of the global Internet. As part of its mandate, PCH routinely provides equipment, training and support services to countries around the world seeking to become more self-reliant in the administration of their domestic internet resources.
Building the local net
As economies and societies become increasingly dependent on Internet–based applications and services, there should also be clear, strategic national approaches to localising critical Internet resources. Strengthening local Internet infrastructure is a necessary step to building a robust domestic Internet ecosystem and economy. In fact, countries with the highest concentration of Internet infrastructure, Internet content and Internet connectivity are the ones most likely to realise the greatest economic benefit. When key facilities such as Internet exchange points and root name servers are situated in-country, businesses such as content services, data back-up, local streaming media, tele-medicine, and mobile apps can be based on and benefit directly from these facilities. E-government and cyber-security initiatives can also receive a major boost. Entrepreneurs and innovators can also have a real opportunity to create and grow Internet-based industry.
Last March, at a meeting of Caribbean government ministers with responsibility for technology, PCH and ICANN agreed to work with the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) to facilitate the proliferation of mirror copies of the DNS root name servers in the Caribbean. At the time there were only two root server copies in the Caribbean. One located in San Juan, Puerto Rico; the other in St Maarten.
The PCH/ICANN/CTU initiative is already bearing fruit. St Kitts and Nevis was the first beneficiary. In July, the twin-island federation activated a local instance of the service. Installations are planned for Barbados, the British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Grenada and St Lucia next. Internet service providers and their customers in these countries will immediately benefit from improved performance, greater network resilience and enhanced emergency response capability. It is hoped that other countries in the region will take the necessary steps to strengthen their Internet infrastructure as well. After all, it is the foundation of the ICT-enabled economy
Benefits of a localised DNS root name server
Protection and self-sufficiency
Local root name services allow domain name system resolvers to continue to function in a predictable way, even during a loss of international connectivity.
The average speed of DNS resolution is improved because DNS resolvers will have a much lower latency and often a less congested path to a local root name server than to a root name server that must be accessed across international links. This performance improvement is due to the fact that recursive queries aimed at the root will get answered more quickly.
If a denial-of-service attack is launched at a root name server in some other part of the world, the traffic will land at a different instance of the root. Consequently, the local community will not see any effects of the attack.
Conversely, a locally originated attack will hit just the local root node, and leave the rest of the world's root name service unaffected. This makes the root name server infrastructure as a whole more resilient.
An indirect benefit is that in having a distributed set of sinks for attacks traffic makes it easier for the root server operators to identify and isolate the source of an attack. The quicker the source of an attack can be identified, the sooner the attack can be stopped.
At a national level, a local root server permits a reduction in router and link resources, as standard IP routing protocols will deliver packets over the shortest path to the closest available host. This benefit keeps traffic in a local or regional context and thereby reducing the user of expensive international links.