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Dr Hosni Tayeb and the case of the disappearing Internet

Why Libya went awol

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

At the weekend, Libya suddenly disappeared from the Internet. For four days not a single .ly domain was available. Even now, only a tiny percentage of the estimated 12,500 domains, paid for at $500 a pop, are accessible.

It's not often that an entire country vanishes from view and the Internet community immediately set out to find out what was going. What has been discovered since then makes for even more curious reading. And it all centres on one Dr Hosni Tayeb, the "caretaker" of the domain but whose legitimacy is now under question by Centr, the international body that represents country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs).

On Wednesday 7 April, the primary nameserver for all .ly domains stopped responding. This was not a failure as many had first assumed but done in response to a battle between the company running and selling Libyan domains - Lydomains.com - and Dr Tayeb who had approached the company running the nameserver and insisted he had greater authority.

The nameserver is based in the UK and is run by UK company Magic Moments. Its client, Lydomains.com, is based in Macclesfield and represented by a Libyan, Kalil Luheshi. Lydomains has been the main sales point for all .ly domains for several years.

Name-calling

Following the dispute over ownership of .ly and an unanswered appeal to the Internet Assigned Names Authority (IANA), the Internet body that decides who runs ccTLDs, to make a decision, Magic Moments decided to duck out of the battle and stopped its server from answering requests for .ly domains.

On 9 April, the secondary server went offline and Libya disappeared from the Internet, according to the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN - which unusually made a public statement on the matter after being inundated with queries.

The secondary nameserver is one of the largest in the world and was chosen as a stable second server in case anything went wrong. It was however simply slaved to the primary so when the primary server stopped serving requests, so did it.

It was the Easter weekend and only at midnight on the Tuesday did the secondary server start answering .ly requests again. It does not appear to contain all the .ly websites' DNS records though and a large number remain invisible.

Lydomains.com knew that Magic Moments was about to turn off its server and sent an email to its customers, blaming IANA for "unilateral action". "The ccTLD .ly has made repeated official requests to the above authority to relocate the Name Servers to an independent environment to ensure the continued operation of the .ly zone," the email read. "Unfortunately, these requests, so far, have been declined by IANA."

IANA is famously picky about nameserver changes. If a request isn't done in the right way, with the right authorisation, in the right format, it ignores the request.

However the situation is made more complicated by the fact that the ownership of the .ly domain is under dispute and a redelegation request has been ongoing since 2002. An IANA statement (coming from ICANN) said: "Due to the ongoing discussions on the re-delegation process, IANA has in fact made no changes to the .ly domain. ICANN is currently working with the parties involved to obtain an appropriate solution which benefits the end user."

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