- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) The Internet's oversight board plans to devote its annual meeting in November to assessing the security of the domain-name system crucial to directing Web traffic and e-mail and how to respond to any threats.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' annual meeting is scheduled for Nov. 13-15 in Marina del Rey, Calif. Previously, the agenda was expected to include the ".pro" domain name and procedures for electing board members. Pending matters are likely to be delayed.

An announcement posted on ICANN's Web site stresses the importance of e-mail, instant messaging and the Web "to support emergency response, personal and other communications, and information sharing."

The domain-name system is highly decentralized, so it stands a good chance of withstanding concentrated attacks.

Still, ICANN chief executive Stuart Lynn said, failing to conduct an in-depth assessment "would be irresponsible" given the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Central to the domain-name system is a set of 13 root servers containing a list of 255 Internet suffixes, such as ".com," ".info" and ".uk." They are distributed throughout the world, though about half are in the United States, some sharing the same physical site.

A Web browser trying to reach "microsoft.com" checks a root server to locate the list of names ending in ".com." Thousands of domain name servers keep copies of that list, and the Web browser then checks one of them to locate Microsoft's internal name servers, which then direct users to specific Web pages.

The Internet has continued working even when one or more root servers temporarily failed. But Internet traffic gets slower as more servers go down.

And local outages can completely cut off groups of Internet users. For example, customers of a specific Internet service provider may not have any Web access should that provider's name servers fail.

Early this year, Internet users around the world were kept from MSNBC.com and other Microsoft sites because of a technician's error that jammed the company's internal name servers.

Occasionally, hackers have altered the directories to divert traffic to a Web page of their choosing.

ICANN was selected by the government in 1998 to handle the Internet's addressing policies.

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