Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Namecoin

Link

On Saturday, I registered [his site] elidourado.bit using Namecoin and pointed it to the IP address of the webserver that hosts my website. If you have access to a suitably-configured DNS server (or know how to use a Namecoin proxy), when you browse to http://elidourado.bit, it will redirect you to elidourado.com, the canonical name of the site [..].

For an Internet governance nerd like me, this is exciting. Many of the political battles over Internet governance have really been about the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, which is the function of ICANN that is nominally overseen by the US Department of Commerce. Although much of the architecture of the Internet is decentralized, the domain name system isn’t, and at the top of the hierarchy sit ICANN, IANA, and the US government.

Actual US oversight of IANA is mostly theoretical—the US didn’t interfere technically, for instance, when ICANN added .xxx to the list of top-level domains even though the US opposed the move—but it has nevertheless become a powerful symbol for other governments, all of whom have come to rely on a resource that is theoretically under the control of the US [..].

Namecoin is a fascinating substitute for the domain name system because, like Bitcoin, it is completely decentralized and censorship-resistant. Proposed censorship measures like SOPA and PIPA simply could not apply to Namecoin because it is virtually impossible to reverse or interfere with name registrations, which are enforced with strong cryptography. New top-level-domains are added by the consensus of the miners, just as Bitcoin miners must agree on the rate of growth of Bitcoin’s money supply [..].

Namecoin is an impressive achievement. Zooko Wilcox-O’Hearn posited in 2001 that identifiers could not be simultaneously secure, decentralized, and human-meaningful, an idea that came to be represented in Zooko’s Triangle. With the advent of Namecoin, Zooko’s Triangle has been broken. It is the first system in history that achieves all three desirable properties of identifiers.

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BTW, the Wikipedia entry on Namecoin says:

 "The internet activist Aaron Swartz [who commited suicide due to overzealous US government officials] described a naming system based on Bitcoin which tries to square Zooko's triangle by employing Bitcoin's distributed blockchain as a proof-of-work to establish consensus of domain name ownership. These systems [..] are secure under Byzantine assumptions. A few months after the proposal, Namecoin was released which implements the concept".