Fed up with ICANN, Pirate Bay cofounder floats P2P DNS system

The Pirate Bay logoPeter Sunde of Pirate Bay fame has had it. Now that the US government is ordering domain names of copyright infringers to be removed from the global DNS, Sunde has sounded a call to arms to create a new Domain Name System to help pirates remain masters of their domain. The new DNS would forego a centralized root—too attractive a target for meddling governments—and use peer-to-peer technology instead.

In recent years, the Pirate Bay has successfully applied this strategy by turning off its widely used BitTorrent tracker. With BitTorrent, users share files directly between them, without the need to store the file on a central server. Hence the term peer-to-peer. However, the coordination of who downloads what from whom was originally still a function performed by a central server. Eventually, the Pirate Bay started to see their tracker that coordinated millions of (mostly) illegal downloads every day as a liability. So they got rid of it, telling people to use a peer-to-peer system to coordinate the downloads, too. This of course rendered useless all old BitTorrent client applications that didn't support the new Distributed Hash Tables (DHT) mechanism. But the need to download is a strong one, so people upgraded or moved to other trackers that are still in operation.

If executed successfully, the effort to create a peer-to-peer based DNS would be a boon for websites hosting content off-shore that is illegal in countries that have influence over ICANN—most notably, the US. This includes sites that may or may not be considered to facilitate illegal downloading, such as torrent search engines, but also sites that host illegal content themselves. And Wikileaks could conceivably find itself included in the crosshairs of the US government.

There are a number of obstacles standing in the way of P2P DNS. First of all, today Google has a huge array of enormous DNS servers to serve up all the *.google.* domains, while I have an aging Pentium 4 box running DNS and mail for just me. In a new system, people looking for Google may hit my server—as well as the other way around, of course. So I'll have to invest in a bigger server. With a peer-to-peer system, people also have to depend on the kindness of strangers: random people around the Net have to send people in your direction. This is hard to make secure, and it's much slower than the existing DNS.

But the biggest problem of all is the ownership of domain names. In a DHT, information is found through hashes of the desired object. With file sharing, this is a hash over the file to be shared. If two people want to share the same file, you actually want to find them both, and download pieces from both of them—that way, the download goes faster. But with the DNS, things work much better if a domain name only maps to a single destination. On a brainstorm page, some solutions are discussed. One idea is an Internet Relay Chat-like fix, where it's necessary to hold on to a domain name like holding on to a name and operator rights on the distributed chat network.

Today, ICANN and the TLDs decide who gets which domain. The Pirate Bay proposes to replace them with an algorithm, one that would reside in the P2P DNS software. The stakes are high: even a small fraction of the traffic of a popular site, or even just an interesting search term, can be worth a lot of money. It's hard to imagine that with such high stakes there wouldn't be any abuse of such an open system, or at the very least, widely diverging points of view of what's best.

There have been many—be it non-peer-to-peer—alternative/complimentary DNS hierarchies in the past, going back to 1995-1997 with AlterNIC. None of them ever gained mainstream acceptance, even though anyone can easily point their DNS settings towards the alternate nameservers without losing compatibility with the regular DNS.

Source: ars technica

Tags: ICANN, The Pirate Bay

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