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Building a New Era of Trust on the Internet

Since Tim Berners-Lee first introduced us to the world wide web, we have seen several major phases of its growth. From the early years — where researchers and open Internet pioneers led the way; to the dot-com boom; to the era of social media domination; the web has come a long way.

While the pandemic circling the globe has undermined many critical systems and institutions of our society, I believe it also has the potential to strengthen the resolve of the Internet community to embrace the vision Berners-Lee had more than 50 years ago. We have the opportunity to enter the next major phase of the Internet — the era of trust.

If the pandemic marks the beginning of this phase, let's look back at the one we just left. In the end, it was characterized by the dominance of corporate tech giants, the proliferation of threats and scams, and the erosion of trust through fake news and bot armies. In Canada, we saw in our recent report that trust in the Internet is waning. Canadians, like many around the world, are beginning to call for governments to step in and do something to reign in what they see as a system perceived to be out of control, one that is impacting their lives in ways they never dreamed.

So, as leaders of the Internet community, what can we do? Should we support the wholesale regulation of the Internet by governments, opening it up to partisan squabbling and lobbyists, or should we continue to allow corporations to close off sections of it with walled gardens and proprietary algorithms? In the world of multistakeholder Internet governance, we know that it doesn't have to be one or the other end of the spectrum.

To unlock the potential for a new era of trust, we, the Internet community, can step up and offer a third way to ensure the open, free Internet can thrive and restore the confidence of the world. At CIRA, we have begun to take concrete steps to build trust by providing Canadians with tools and resources to begin to restore their trust.

First, we have doubled down on ensuring the .CA domain remains safe and secure. The .CA registry has among the lowest levels of abuse and malicious domains in the world. We believe strongly that our Canadian Presence Requirements, criticized by some as slowing our growth and overly bureaucratic, have provided Canadians with access to national Internet infrastructure that helps build trust in the system as a whole. Nexus requirements are not a panacea, but they can provide an important layer of protection.

We believe that a strong national Internet community is compatible with a vibrant global Internet so long as it respects international standards and embraces the value of the free and open Internet we all fight for. The goal isn't to fragment the Internet; it is to strengthen it at the local level so the entire system benefits. Think globally; act locally isn't just a slogan, it's a path to rebuild trust in the Internet. We feel it's important for ccTLDs to prioritize strengthening their national Internet communities and infrastructure to help restore the confidence in the Internet ecosystem.

Next, we recently launched a service to provide free privacy and security to all Canadians on the Internet — CIRA Canadian Shield. The goal of Canadian Shield is to provide a basic level of protection for users who are under attack from phishing, malware, and botnets, which undermine trust in the entire system. Canadian Shield is an opt-in service that provides all Canadians with an option to protect their privacy that doesn't involve handing over their DNS data to their Internet Service Provider or a multinational corporation.

While most reading this undoubtedly have devices and networks protected by sophisticated cybersecurity tools and platforms, we must remember that we are the exception and not the rule. The Internet experienced by millions of users every day is one filled with threats, misinformation and scams. While some would like to see this kind of protection regulated by government — with national filters and blocklists — we believe the solution is to provide users with trusted resources and platforms from neutral third parties. ccTLDs, with their DNS expertise and track record as trusted stewards of Internet resources, are in a unique position to fill this need. We have already blocked more than 1.5 million attempts to access malicious domains by our 70,000 users across Canada in the few weeks since the service went live.

Finally, as part of our rollout of Canadian Shield, CIRA has gone all-in on support of DNS over HTTPS (DoH). While this standard is controversial in some circles, we believe that providing options for our users, and supporting global standards, is critically important. Let's be clear, DoH is not a panacea for privacy on the Internet, but it is an important tool that may provide enhanced privacy for some users. As we all know, the core of the Internet is the domain name system, and the DNS is delivered via clear text over the Internet just like it was in the early days. This means that, no matter what security or privacy posture you choose, you need to trust someone to resolve your DNS query.

The value of DoH is that it provides users with another choice in whom they trust on the Internet. While the early movers on DoH were Internet giants like Google and Cloudflare, it was fair to ask, "Is this a better option for privacy?" When only a handful of private corporations control a new standard, it threatens to undermine the diversity, resiliency, and stability of the Internet. This is why CIRA has embraced DoH; as a non-profit with no desire to sell, share or monetize DNS data in any way, we are providing Canadians with another option for whom they want to trust on the Internet. Not only has CIRA rolled out the first national DNS over HTTPS resolver in the world as part of Canadian Shield, but we will also be leveraging DoH throughout our entire line of DNS services in the weeks and months to come.

Collectively, we have before us a tremendous opportunity to help shape this next era of the Internet. The global pandemic has demonstrated just how critical the Internet is to our economy and society. While the value of the Internet has never been clearer, the issues of the last era of the Internet are not just going to fall away without action.

We can put in place the tools, platforms and options to help restore the trust of Internet users worldwide. If the global Internet community can't tackle this challenge, there are plenty of governments and corporations — many without the best interests of the open Internet in mind — who will do it for us.

At CIRA, it is our mission to build a trusted Internet for Canadians. We call on our peers around the globe to leverage their infrastructure and expertise to build the trusted Internet of this new era. There is no silver bullet, but together we can help re-establish the vision Berners-Lee conceived more than 50 years ago.

By Byron Holland, President and CEO of CIRA

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Co-designer of the TCP/IP Protocols & the Architecture of the Internet

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