ICANN is swapping out one of the key signatures that verifies a website domain, making it harder for hackers to crack.
In the course of your Internet surfing, your browser has almost certainly displayed a warning, telling you that the site you’re attempting to access may be an imposter out to steal your data or infect your computer.
In addition to your browser, the Internet itself can detect these scam sites by matching the URL you type in to the website’s server.
That process will soon get an upgrade behind the scenes, as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Web’s governing body, moves to strengthen the encryption of the Web’s Domain Name System, or DNS.
DNS allows you to type in a common URL, like www.pcmag.com, and be directed to the numerical IP address that hosts the server of the site you want to visit, like 188.8.131.52.
The problem, according to Vice’s Motherboard, is that DNS was originally built for simplicity not security.
If it’s breached, hackers could reroute Web users to a phishing site that looks legitimate but actually steals data or infects your PC with malware.
“The domain name system was designed when the Internet was a friendlier place, and there wasn’t much thought of security put into it,” ICANN Vice President Matt Larson told Motherboard.
With that in mind, a level of protection was added to the Web’s top DNS layer in 2010, known Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC).
But “as with any key, password or security system, the trust anchor needs to be updated on a regular basis,” ICANN said earlier this year.
So ICANN is swapping out one of the key signatures that verifies a website domain, making it harder for hackers to crack.
Theoretically, if such a key was hacked, your browser’s phishing detection would be one of the last lines of defense between you and a malicious website.
There’s no evidence the key has been breached, so this is akin to a precautionary password change for the Internet.
Things get rolling in October, but the whole process will take a little over a year.
The move, ICANN said in May, is like “changing the locks on a house.”
It comes around the same time the US Commerce Department is set to relinquish control of the DNS system and hand it over to ICANN.
The transition has been a thorny political issue, with the Republican party calling it “America’s abandonment of the international Internet.”