The U.S. Already Has An Internet Kill Switch

Friday, February 04, 2011

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The ease with which Egypt was able to reduce Internet activity to about eight percent of normal traffic is a good demonstration of how nations already have the power to limit Internet access in times of crisis, including the United States.

As Jart Armin points out at HOSTexploit, other nations regularly demonstrate their ability to limit citizen access to the Internet, including Burma, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, and China - it is just a matter of scaling Internet blocking.

Armin points to 'scraping" as one method: 

"Some governments quite openly embrace technology that enables intervention. China employs its 'Great Firewall,' while Australia has the hotly debated 'Refused Classification' (RC) program. Both of these countries manage intervention through block listing to filter out anything that they consider to be undesirable. This can be done through 'scraping' or automatically scanning HTTP headers on Web pages for key words and discarding any objectionable material. Application of the scraping is done at the ISP level," Armin states.

Even more effective is traffic flow disruption through primary routing protocols and through control of domain name servers, Armin says.

"Controlling the routing protocol for the Internet BGP (Border Gateway Protocol), the means used to exchange information between ISPs either at a national or regional level, is all that is required. Further, whoever controls the DNS (domain name server) within BGP basically controls Internet access for that domain. Indeed, many countries now enact various forms of DNS and content filtering under the guise of law enforcement and national security, with ISPs and hosts complying. An example of how vital BGP is to route functionality was evidenced by a BGP experiment that went wrong last summer, causing a "significant percentage of global Internet traffic" to be disrupted."

The point of Armin's article is that the U.S government - or any other for that matter - already has the ability to control access and use of the Internet at will.

The debate in the U.S. over legislating an "Internet Kill Switch" is not one of whether or not to create a mechanism to control Internet access,  but one of who will legally exercise the power to limit accessibility and under what circumstances.

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