Saturday, December 24, 2011

SOPA & PIPA  The Damage They Can do.

With permission from Dr. Barnathan, I am reprinting his letter to Congressman Lamar Smith. Congressman Smith is the author of SOPA. A law, which threatens to devastate our DNS system and takes a giant hatchet to free speech. This letter can be  found on the congressman's Facebook page, a link is provided below.

" Michael Barnathan - If I may join the chorus of angry voices posting on an unrelated wall topic (because you don't allow more general commenting on your wall) for a moment, the SOPA bill you authored threatens to undermine one of the foundations of the Internet, the Domain Name System (DNS).

As a computer scientist, allow me to enlighten you as to just one reason, though a major one, why this implication of your bill is fundamentally problematic:

DNS is the "phone book" of the Internet, and is the reason you can access Facebook at rather than, say, If your bill succeeds, large swaths of the 'net could potentially go dark in very unpredictable and scary ways. More fundamentally, your bill would irreparably weaken DNSSEC, the system which provides DNS with its network security, making it impossible to legally implement DNSSEC in a working manner. This (re)opens sites to a type of attack known as DNS poisoning.

Here's what this means in English: let's imagine we're in a post-SOPA world. Say that you log onto Facebook to post on your wall. Your browser reads, but unknown to you, a DNS attack on Facebook has taken place, and Facebook's "phone book" entry now points to an illegitimate site. You are sent to that site, most likely hosted in a foreign country. Since the browser still claims you're at and the site otherwise looks like Facebook, you feel no hesitation when the site prompts you for your password. Your account is now compromised, and you don't even know it.

And it wouldn't be just you. Everyone logging onto Facebook at that time would have their accounts compromised. Individual hackers would love it. So would hostile foreign governments looking for ways to weaken the American infrastructure and economy.

Are you starting to see why weakening DNS is a bad idea? Here's another reason: the current Domain Name System is largely an American-owned service. Almost all of the "root" servers which form the system's backbone reside in the USA, and the system is controlled by the Department of Commerce. That is the only reason why your legislation could have any jurisdiction over the system at all, of course.

But the Internet is a vastly complex worldwide network. It has a knack for routing around damage. So what would most likely instead happen is a massive switch to an unregulated and highly distributed DNS system which is completely outside of any national control. Whoever owns DNS owns the Internet, and such a system could quickly grow to such a scale that you could never suppress it, unless you relish the entire network going down.

If you're still reading by this point, I'm impressed. Did it make sense? With all respect, if it doesn't, you need to acquire a better understanding of the technologies which make the Internet work before you propose legislation which will impact them. I will be happy to explain anything further, as I suspect will anyone with expertise in this area.

If nothing else, think for a moment about the unusually large number of people and organizations with technical expertise coming out of the woodwork to tell you how bad an idea this bill is, and admit that perhaps there are sound reasons why it is untenable.

Best Regards,
Dr. Michael Barnathan
Ph. D. Computer Science."


****Thanks to Dr Barnathan for so kindly allowing me to reprint your very informative letter.

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