keys of the internetYes, you read that correct, There are seven secret human beings who actually have the keys to the internet. Without which the whole internet as we know it will crash down.

What are these keys? And who are these people?

These are actual physical Keys. They are called as the keys of the internet.

This is to make sure everything is safe in the World Wide Web. These keys are used to protect the system upper heart of the web i.e., “DNS” (Domain Name System).

To know more about DNS, ICANN, How web actually works? kindly refer our previous guide on Layman’s guide to Website and How the website works.

What is DNS?

DNS is an Internet or network server that helps to point domain names or hostnames to their associated Internet Protocol address.

For Example, Think of the DNS as a Phone Directory.

Your Web Address or IP is your Phone Number.

So, every time I dial your number, it has to connect to you.

But, imagine someone tampers with the phone line and if I try your number, it connects to someone else.

The same thing can be done with the web addresses, especially important web address like your banking site.

So in order to make sure every time you key in a web address it has to route into that address. That is why DNS is very important. 

How your DNS works. ICANN
How your DNS works. ICANN

All of this is protected by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Number).

Why Keys?

If something goes wrong with the ICANN database the whole internet will go down. In order to rebuild the ICANN database, they came up with a system that they are not entrusting to much control to any one person or any organisation or the government.

ICANN came up with a new security system called DNSSEC (Domain Name System Security Extensions) which makes sure Web users reach the sites they want and prevents cybercriminals from redirecting users to malicious websites.

As a part of this security process, 14 people were selected from different parts of the world and 7 physical keys also made. These 7 keys can open safe deposit boxes which contain a smart key cards. These cards contain multiple keys to gain access to the device that generates the internet’s master key.

That master key is a computer code known as a root key-signing key which can access the master ICANN database. This key generates more keys that trickle down to protect various bits and pieces of the internet, in various places, used by different internet security organisations.



Key Ceremony

In order to maintain integrity and to verify and update the lock, a Key Ceremony is conducted by ICANN. These key holders meet four times a year to make necessary updates.

So what happens if all seven people can’t attend, no problem the system is designed in such a way that you need a minimum of three people and their keys to activate and generate that password.

Here is the Highlights and a description of the June 16, 2010 Key Signing Ceremony.

The security around the ceremony is pretty intense, you have to go through series of lock doors with key codes, hand scanners, eye scanners until you enter a room where pretty much no electronic communication can work. The entire process is meticulously recorded and every single step is laid out. In fact, you and I can even attend the key ceremony, all you need to do is to go to the ICANN website and register 45 days before the ceremony, but the chances of getting selected is very slim.

Who hold the Key?

These 14 people are called Trusted Community Representatives (TCR), they are chosen on the basis of invitations or by applications that are sent in by the people of the internet community.

These 14 people are divided into two groups.

  1. Recovery Key Shareholders
  2. Crypto Officers

Recovery Key Shareholders

Recovery key shareholders are given backup keys which has a piece of the root key, which is then stamped and sealed and take them to their respective homes. These are just a back up in case something wrong with the main keys, chances of that happening is very slim.

Recovery key shareholders holders actually do not meet in the key ceremony they stay at the different part of the world. They have the keys so that they could access the last resort measure if any unfortunate event happens. The backup keyholders actually have a little bit different key which unveils the smart card that contains a fragment of code which is helpful in building a replacement key generating machine. These 7 backup keyholders once in a year send their photograph with the days’ newspaper and their key to verify that all is well.

Crypto Officers

On the other hand the Crypto officers, they are given with physical keys which can open a safe deposit box which has the smart cards. When all master cards pieces together they will get that Encrypted Master Key.

These people are from different regions of the world speaking different languages. ll these key holders have a long background in internet security. They are selected for their geographical spread all over the world and also their experience. A single country is never allowed to have too many key holders.