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Changing who controls the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) so close to our presidential election will jeopardize the results of how you vote on Nov. 8 unless Congress stops this changeover. When the calendar hits Sept. 30, a mere 6 weeks before our election, the United States cannot be assured that if any web site is hacked, the responsible party will be held accountable. We cannot be sure if a web site is a valid. We cannot be sure if one country is being favored over another. These are all the things ICANN is responsible for and has worked perfectly since the Internet was created. Why change it now and so close to the election? Why does that matter to you as a voter?
Take a look at recent cyber activity as it relates to the election. The Democratic National Convention was breached comprising the entire party’s strategy, donor base, and indeed, national convention. Everything the DNC had done to prepare for a moment four years in the making (if not longer) was undermined by a hacker who had been in their system for some time but waited for the optimal moment to spring it on the DNC – opening day of the convention. The FBI and other U.S. agencies, as the headlines blare, suspect Russia is responsible for the hack. Recently, Vladimir Putin went so far as to say, "Does it matter who broke in? Surely what's important is the content of what was released to the public.”
It matters to all of us whether we live in the United States or not, if a hostile country can undermine our democratic process. There is even more alarming evidence this is happening during this election cycle. Russian hackers are suspected of breaching voter registration systems in Illinois and Arizona. Arizona went so far as to shut down the state’s voter registration system for a week. No data was stolen but it was downloaded. As for Illinois, some voter data was stolen!
ICANN does more than just assign and/or approve your website’s domain. ICANN has its own Security and Stability Advisory Committee, which “engages in ongoing threat assessment and risk analysis of the Internet naming and address allocation services to assess where the principal threats to stability and security lie, and advises the ICANN community accordingly.” They are equivalent to your security guard at the bank. Why change the security guard now when voter data is more vulnerable – and prized - than ever?
If ICANN changes hands, so do the security measures taken to protect the rightful owner of your web site. If a site was hijacked today – not an uncommon crime in the cyber world - to reassert yourself as the rightful owner, you would go through law enforcement channels, your domain provider, and yes, ICANN.
When a significant event happens to a web site, businesses, cyber securities companies, and ICANN all know their roles and act together in tandem to mitigate the threat. They are in lockstep with an emergency call plan that has been mapped out through trial and error over the years.
ICANN’s actions have made the internet safer for you. Will that still hold true after Sept. 30?
At the end of the day, election administrators are not cyber defenders nor should they be. They are trained to run elections. Let them do their job and let ICANN do theirs.
Theresa Payton is the former White House Chief Information Officer and CEO of a leading cyber security company, Fortalice Solutions.
The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.