Caribbean strengthening its cyber defences

via Trinidad Express Many Trinidadians may still be blissfully unaware of Operation Global Blackout, the malicious threat to shut down the Web by bombarding the Internet's Domain Name System with junk traffic. But one Trinidadian is playing a significant role is preventing such a threat from ever being realised.

The credible threat of Operation Global Blackout, backed by a leaderless, faceless movement known simply as Anonymous, triggered a coordinated response from organisations such as San Francisco-based non-profit Packet Clearing House (PCH), whose mission is to defend vital pieces of Internet infrastructure.

Anonymous has claimed responsibility for a number of high-profile malicious hackings, perhaps most notably the distributed denial of service (or DDoS) attacks against organisations such as PayPal in the wake of the attempted shutdown of the Wikileaks website.

Given Anonymous' penchant for wreaking high-level havoc, Trinidadian-born Bevil Wooding, an Internet Strategist with PCH, took the Internet security threat of Operation Global Blackout "very seriously".

"Fortunately, by pre-announcing their intentions, Anonymous gave us enough time to rally engineers and Web security advocates into action," said Wooding. "Plans were initiated to accelerate the strengthening of the servers and routers that help the Internet's Domain Name System to function."

The only effective way to mitigate an attack such as the DDoS threat made by Anonymous is to expand capacity so that the Internet name servers can absorb the extra traffic thrown at it, while still accommodating the normal load, Wooding explained.

He should know. In 2010, he was designated as a Trusted Community Representative by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)—the organisation responsible for managing domains on the Internet. ICANN appointed Wooding as one of only seven persons in the world entrusted as Recovery Key Share Holders for the Domain Name Server Security Extensions (DNSSEC) protocol that protects domain names on the Internet.

"Domain name servers act as a directory system of the global Internet and are a fundamental to the proper functioning of the net," Wooding explained.

Throughout March, PCH installed new root servers and upgrade other around the world to strengthen the global Internet's capacity to respond to requests. PCH's response was immediate, collaborating with other institutions such as the global networking equipment giant Cisco, behind the scenes to proactively fortify the Internet in order to mitigate against the enduring possibility of a global Internet shutdown.

There are 13 root servers worldwide, run by government institutions, universities and private companies. However, Wooding pointed out, in the English-speaking Caribbean, there are none.

The statistic lays bare the urgent need for our region to address the kind of critical Internet infrastructure underdevelopment that places sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean squarely in the virtual crosshairs of cyber criminals.

"Part of what we do at PCH is work with a number of countries in the Caribbean to ensure that they have the infrastructure they need to strengthen their Internet connectivity against these kinds of attacks," stated Wooding, who is also the founder of the Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG).

"As with any other region in the world, Caribbean computer networks are under constant threat of cyber attack. Many institutions, of course, are not exactly eager to disclose when their networks have been compromised," he said.

According to Wooding, the pattern of non-disclosure can sometimes also contribute to the vulnerability of the system.

"Organisations like PCH, CaribNOG, ICANN, the Caribbean Telecommunications Union and the Commonwealth Technology Organisation are all working together to create greater public awareness of the threats that our region's computer networks routinely face. More importantly, through training workshops and other outreach initiatives, we are also helping individuals and institutions better detect and respond to and cyber security incidents," Wooding said.

In the meantime, the threat of Operation Global Blackout seems to have blown over. The DNS roots are currently operating "within normal performance range", according to a message on the micro-blogging website Twitter by the anonymous security researcher @CIA_sec. In fact, Anonymous itself wrote @YourAnonNews in a Twitter post "#OpGlobalBlackout is just another #OpFacebookfailop. #yawn."

It is a silent reprieve that, at least for now, comes as good news for the Caribbean, ordinary users, and the team of "good guys" tasked with protecting the global Internet.