It’s like something out of Tolkien. In some unknown future, the Internet blacks out and civilisation totters on the edge of chaos. The fate of humanity hangs in the balance. But seven strangers, each possessing a special key, must now come together to bring the Internet back to life and save the planet.
Fact? Fiction? Well, what is certain is that the Caribbean now has its own Internet key-keeper, in Trinidad & Tobago-based technology expert Bevil Wooding.
“Yes, it’s true,” says Wooding. “I’m one of seven people, designated recovery-key shareholders, entrusted with a special cryptographic smart card that holds part of a key used to generate the Domain Name Server Security Extensions (DNSSEC) protocol that protects domain names on the Internet.”
What that means is that the master recovery key can restore the Internet in the event of a catastrophic breach, such as a terrorist cyber-attack or a major attack on Internet infrastructure.
Internet domain-name watchdog ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) appointed the seven Internet key-keepers last June. Their cards were handed out in July at a ceremony in a high-security data centre in Virginia, USA, strategically located just outside the “blast zone” for Washington, DC. ICANN, a California-based international not-for-profit, represents the interest of Internet users across the globe and has a mandate to keep the Internet secure, stable and interoperable – that is, able to exchange information.
When I asked the inevitable question about the possibility of a worldwide Internet blackout, Wooding downplayed the doomsday scenario, assuring me that, contrary to some reports in the international media, the Internet would not shut down or collapse, even if the DNSSEC system failed.
The seven keyholders were selected from different parts of the world to ensure that any re-creation of the security key would have the involvement of the global Internet community. “I was selected by ICANN to serve as a trusted community representative, and I effectively represent Latin America and Caribbean in that role,” said Wooding, who won’t say where he stores his key.
He explained: “As developing countries, we have a responsibility to ensure that we play our part in defining the systems, policies and the standards that impact, influence and share our future. Business innovation, government service delivery, national and regional competitiveness, social empowerment, and human development are all now inextricably linked to the Internet and access to Internet-based technology and systems.”
Bevil Wooding, Trinidad & Tobago
Jiankang Yao, China
Moussa Guebre, Burkina Faso
Ondrej Sury, Czech Republic
Norm Ritchie, Canada
Paul Kane, UK
Dan Kaminsky, USA
What the Internet key-keepers do
“In the event of a major network disaster, natural calamity or major Internet security breach, we could be called upon to fly to a secure, undisclosed location in the United States, where at least five of these encrypted key fragments must be combined as part of a process to restore the security of the Internet’s domain name system (DNS). You can think of it as ICANN’s disaster-preparedness plan for the Internet.”
Born and raised in San Fernando in southern Trinidad, Wooding is the chief knowledge officer of Congress WBN (C-WBN), a faith-based nonprofit headquartered in Trinidad.
A graduate of the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, in computer science and management, he takes his global responsibility in stride. His focus remains on promoting the value and importance of the Internet as a development platform for governments, businesses and communities.
Wooding started out in business as one of the founders of Teleios Systems, a pioneering Trinidad-based software-development firm.
Wooding now focuses on his non-profit work. He is also the programme director and one of the architects behind the Caribbean ICT Roadshow. An initiative of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), the roadshow promotes the innovative use of information and communication technology (ICT) throughout the region. Bernadette Lewis, secretary general of the CTU, said of Wooding, “His technical expertise, international experience and his clear commitment to regional development make him a unique and invaluable Caribbean resource.”
The Caribbean ICT Roadshow has been attracting international attention as a model for promoting innovation in the use of ICT at every level of society.
Another of Wooding’s many roles is as an Internet strategist for Packet Clearing House, a US-based not-for-profit that works to create and support critical Internet infrastructure internationally. As its Caribbean outreach manager, Wooding works to raise awareness in the region of the need for more critical infrastructure, such as Internet Exchange Points, or IXPs, which can stimulate the Internet economy in the region. (An IXP is a facility that allows domestic Internet traffic to stay local instead of being sent via long, expensive, overseas routes.)
Over the past year, Wooding has been challenging governments, Internet service providers and content producers to establish IXPs in the region so that citizens, businesses and governments alike can explore new possibilities for innovation, industry growth, and a revolution in education, e-health, youth empowerment, e-government and telecommunications. Already several countries, including the British Virgin Islands, Barbados, Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, and St Kitts and Nevis, have signalled their intention to establish IXPs.
As a Caribbean technology ambassador, Wooding has brought the international spotlight to the region. His appointment as an Internet key-keeper is now bringing even more attention to the complex challenges facing Caribbean development. Richard Jimmerson, chief information officer at the American Registry for Internet Numbers, concluded: “In its search for trusted community representatives, ICANN has certainly found the right man.”
It’s difficult to put this Caribbean pioneer in any one category. Wooding, who lives in east Trinidad with his wife Camille and their three children, Rebekka, Brandon and Chaela, is also an artist who has created pieces for his friends and family in acrylics, pastels, charcoal and, of course, pixels. He’s an avid music-lover with an enviable Caribbean jazz and kaiso collection. He played tenor pan with Tunapuna steelband Exodus in 1992, when they won the national Panorama competition finals. And he is the leader of the ten-member music band at his local church – the EC Band, which has a repertoire that spans smooth jazz, Latin, Asian, African, calypso and calypso-jazz.
Wooding, a born-again believer, is seemingly unflustered by his intense schedule, always finding time for family, friends and recreation.
“Life is about balance,” he says. “In my home, the priority is God, family and then work.”