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The Brit charged with holding one of seven digital keys necessary to re-establish a system of trust in the highly unlikely event of a collapse of the DNSSec (DNS Security Extensions) system has spoken of the practicalities of his responsibility.

Paul Kane, chief exec of CommunityDNS and chair of the DNS Infrastructure Resilience Task Force, was selected by internet governance body ICANN from among 60 candidates to serve as a "trusted community representative" from Western Europe.

Kane is one of seven recovery key share holders from around the world. In the event of a collapse of the DNSSec system five of these holders need to travel to a secure data centre location in the US to restart the process of re-signing the root zone and from there rebuilding a trusted "Yellow Pages" for IP address to website lookups.

This disaster recovery process would only happen in the event of a "fundamental catastrophic failure" which is "very unlikely", Kane told the BBC's Radio 4. The key fragment itself comes in the shape of a smartcard with a built-in chip. Kane reassured the BBC that he's never lost a credit card.

The Domain Name System marked a significant milestone earlier this month when the root zone was digitally signed for the first time as part of the roll-out of DNSSec. The next-generation internet lookup technology uses digital certificates to guard against the possibility of surfers being deceived by forged web sites or spoofed emails. Kane's role is part of a disaster recovery plan ICANN has established in the unlikely event of an attack so serious that the system of trust established by DNSSec has to re-established from scratch.

The plan includes multiple levels of security so that no single party can "control" (either switch on/off) any part of the DNSSec service. Kane and his fellow six key component holders have been described as a "Fellowship of the Ring for the internet age". Pressed on this analogy, Kane said he most identified with Gandalf, the wizard.

Instead of Mordor, the key-holders would need to travel to a secure US data centre.

A representative of CommunityDNS explained that the internet would not "stop working or collapse" even if the DNSSec system failed, contrary to mainstream reports.

"DNSSEC sits on top of 'the internet' as an additional security layer for end users to validate DNS data - ie confirm they have a connection to a legitimate operator and not a spoof," he said.

"If DNSSEC were to fail, the underlying Internet communication medium will function as normal (like today) yet the user would not be able to validate the DNS data correctly (like the internet is today!). Thus, the first step would be to undertake a key roll-over, this is already built into the system and will occur as a matter of good management at regular intervals anyway," he concluded.

Disappointingly, this means our initial picture of seven world-saving internet key holders, private aeroplanes on standby, and bodyguards is somewhat wide of the mark.

Of course, it might just be a cover story. ®

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