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April 13, 2004

Confusion as Libya drops off the Internet

An entire nation's internet addresses stopped functioning for almost five days, before being reactivated yesterday. All URLs and email addresses ending in the domain .ly, for Libya, did not work between Friday and Tuesday.

By CBR Staff Writer

Thousands of web sites, many of them in English and not directly connected to Libya, became inaccessible as a result. It’s still not clear exactly what happened, but it seems to be the fault of the domain’s caretaker, possibly related to an ongoing political struggle for control over .ly.

Blame was initially laid at the door of the Internet Corp for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which was accused of turning the domain off without consulting users, but this turned out not to be true.

LyDomains.com, the UK company that exclusively registers .ly names, emailed customers on Friday, saying unilateral action by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority had caused the problem and only IANA could resolve the issue.

IANA is a function carried out by ICANN, under powers granted to it by the US government. IANA is responsible for maintaining the list of people and organizations that manage country-code domains like .us, .uk, and .ly.

The .ly domain is ostensibly managed by Alshaeen for Information Technology, a Tripoli-based company that is the as the official caretaker of .ly. But it is believed that this caretaker actually operates out of London.

According to IANA general manager Doug Barton, the domain stopped functioning when the primary name server for .ly stopped responding. The secondary name server, which was slaved to the primary, failed as consequence.

Barton would not say why this primary, which was hosted by London-based Host Europe Plc, under its Magic Moments brand ISP unit, stopped working. The secondary was hosted by UUNet, a division of MCI Inc, a major backbone provider.

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Barton said .ly became accessible again yesterday, after he called UUNet to ask the company to redeploy the last available copy of the .ly zone file. This would have made most if not all of the .ly namespace functional again.

LyDomains wrote in its Friday email, which was published on several web sites: Your .ly domain name(s), along with all other .ly domain names, will cease to function until corrective action is taken by IANA to rectify the matter.

ICANN’s story is backed up by technical observations, DNS expert Karl Auerbach, a former ICANN director and frequent ICANN critic, said. The bottom line this time with Libya is that it is not ICANN’s fault, he said.

Auerbach said that during the outage the domain name system root servers were still pointing .ly lookups to the two main .ly name servers. In other words, IANA had not made any technical changes that would have caused this problem.

ICANN, which strives to be transparent when executing its usual DNS-related functions, is quieter about IANA function activities, likely because it is dealing with international governments in most cases.

While the reason for the outage is not publicly known, there’s a possibility it is related to ongoing tensions between the current .ly caretaker and the Libyan government, which has been attempting to have .ly assigned to it.

ICANN/IANA does not publicize which or how many redelegations it has pending. But records from other organizations show that the Libyan government has been trying to have .ly redelegated for over two years, at least.

ICANN said in a statement sent to concerned users yesterday: It is ICANN’s policy to wherever possible allow the local internet community to resolve any conflicts or disputes in relationship to re-delegation issues.

It is believed that IANA is currently leaving the decision about .ly’s future to the Libyan internet community. The London-based caretaker, it is said, does not want to give up control of the domain to the Libyan government.

California-based ICANN is believed to have its hands tied somewhat by the longstanding US sanctions against Libya, which is still on a list of nations believed to sponsor terrorism, despite recent moves emblemized notably by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s recent visit to the country.

Most of IANA’s redelegation requests come about because in the 1990s many governments missed the internet boat, and the domains for their countries were delegated by IANA to independent operations or academic institutions.

According to ccTLD Governance Project, there is no formal relationship between Alshaeen and the Libyan government. It has been reported, over the years, that .ly is actually administered from by LyDomains. Neither could be reached for comment.

Libya’s domain has a history of controversy. In 1997, during the process that led to the creation of ICANN, the US Congress was outraged to discover that Dr Jon Postel, the previous custodian of the IANA function, had delegated Libya a domain.

Then, as today, Libya was on a list of the US’s persona non grata, along with the likes of Iraq, Iran and Cuba. It was determined that Postel had not broken any laws, but it appeared to some that the US was asserting ownership rights of the DNS.

This article is based on material originally published by ComputerWire

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