ICANN delays changing Internet master key

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ICANN CEO G"oran Marby.
ICANN CEO G"oran Marby.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is postponing its plan to change the cryptographic key that helps protect the Domain Name System (DNS).

The changing or "rolling" of the key was originally scheduled to occur on 11 October, but it is being delayed because some recently obtained data shows a significant number of resolvers used by Internet service providers (ISPs) and network operators are not yet ready for the key rollover.

ICANN is a global non-profit organisation responsible for co-ordinating the maintenance and procedures of several databases related to the namespaces of the Internet, ensuring the network's stable and secure operation.

It created the current key at a secure data centre in Virginia on 16 June 2010 and ICANN has not touched it since.

The organisation plans to perform a Root Zone Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) key signing key (KSK) rollover as required in the root zone KSK operator DNSSEC practice statement.

According to ICANN, there may be multiple reasons operators do not have the new key installed in their systems - some may not have their resolver software properly configured and a recently discovered issue in one widely used resolver program appears to not be automatically updating the key as it should, for reasons that are still being explored.

"The security, stability and resiliency of the domain name system is our core mission. We would rather proceed cautiously and reasonably, than continue with the roll on the announced date of 11 October," says ICANN CEO G"oran Marby.

"It would be irresponsible to proceed with the roll after we have identified these new issues that could adversely affect a significant number of end-users."

Changing the key involves generating a new cryptographic key pair and distributing the new public component to the DNSSEC-validating resolvers.

Based on the estimated number of Internet users who use DNSSEC validating resolvers, an estimated one-in-four global Internet users, or 750 million people, could be affected by the KSK rollover.

ICANN is reaching out to its community, regional Internet registries, network operator groups and others to help explore and resolve the issues.

A new date for the key roll has not yet been determined. ICANN's office of the chief technology officer says it is tentatively hoping to reschedule the key roll for the first quarter of 2018, but it will be dependent on more fully understanding the new information and mitigating as many potential failures as possible.

In the meantime, ICANN remains confident in the security of the current cryptographic key and by extension, the security of the DNS.

ICANN will provide additional information as it becomes available and the new key roll date will be announced as appropriate.

"It's our hope that network operators will use this additional time period to be certain that their systems are ready for the key roll," said Marby. "Our testing platform will help operators ensure their resolvers are properly configured with the new key and we will continue our engagement and communications to these operators."

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