Dan Kaminsky, a legendary computer security researcher, died this week. He made a number of crucial contributions to the security of the internet that you benefit from every day, perhaps most notably his discovery and fixing of a flaw in the Domain Name System (DNS) protocol that you use every time you type a web address into a browser. His Wikipedia profile
has more, and I also recommend this appreciation
by Sonal Chokshi on Kaminsky’s prescient writing about Bitcoin back in 2013.
As you may have gathered from last week’s TiB
, I’m currently very interested in the stubborn persistence of physicality in an increasingly virtualised world. Kaminsky played a role in a fascinating example of this: ICANN’s “key signing” ceremonies. ICANN
is the non-profit organisation responsible for a number of activities that allow the internet to function, including management of the DNS root zone. Every quarter it holds an elaborate in-person ritual, described here
, to generate the keys that will secure DNS for the next three months.
The interplay between physicality and the creation of legitimacy
(another recent TiB preoccupation - see TiB 158
) is fascinating. Kaminsky was one of seven Trusted Community Representatives who were given a physical key to be used in these ceremonies - and for disaster recovery in the event of a catastrophe, as detailed by ICANN here
(a process somewhat reminiscent of a Bond movie). The signing ceremony in its traditional form, however, was a victim of COVID: the pandemic forced even this process online, albeit with many safeguards
. Virtualisation marches on, perhaps.