Canadian Internet Regulator Opposes Quebec Blocking Plan

President Byron Holland says plan to block online gambling sites poses social as well as technical problems

Byron Holland, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), penned an op-ed article in the Montreal Gazette this week warning that the Québec government's stated intention to institute the DNS-blocking of unauthorised online gambling sites competing with its exclusive Espacejeux enterprise presents both social and technical problems.
InfoPowa readers will recall that the Québec provincial government has said it hopes to boost Espacejeux revenues by acting against competing but unauthorised online operators offering more attractive incentives and odds.
"While this practice, called Domain Name System (DNS) blocking, is not uncommon – Turkey blocked Twitter and YouTube leading up to an election; it forms a part of China's Great Firewall, and it was central to the now defunct Stop Online Piracy Act – it raises a number of social and technical concerns," Holland observed, noting that this tactic is rarely effective and simply makes sites more difficult to access.
"Anyone who watches U.S. Netflix from Canada – and there's a lot of you – knows how easy it is to bypass IP blocking, a similar form of Internet filtering. A quick search will turn up hundreds of services to avoid DNS blocking. It's a practice that didn't work in Turkey, and it won't work for the Québec government either," the internet expert opines.
Holland says that from a social perspective blocking practices bring the dangers of censorship and threats to freedom of expression, and from a technical point of view threaten the security and stability of the internet.
"The domain name system (DNS) is a fundamental part of the successful operation of the Internet. It is a global database that translates domain names (like cira.ca or lotoquebec.com) into the numeric Internet addresses used by computers," Holland explains.
"DNS blocking interferes with that process. What the Québec government is proposing is to block the resolution of particular domain names, those that host gambling sites not run by Loto-Québec. Many DNS experts believe that modifying the operation of the DNS through practices like DNS blocking could have long-term negative impacts on the stability, security and reliability of the Internet."
Holland argues that if citizens of Québec want to engage in online gambling on websites other than one hosted by Loto-Québec, many of them will find a way, pointing out that there are numerous third-party services available to bypass filters.
While many of these are safe to use, a number are not, and that presents a security risk to the consumer in the form of botnet infection, identity theft or even financial fraud, he claims.
Holland further notes that DNS blocking also breaks an important security technology that protects Internet users called DNSSEC. This technology adds an end-to-end security layer that verifies the integrity of requests for information online, preventing malicious acts like DNS spoofing and DNS hijacking, and can be rendered useless by DNS blocking.
"The Internet we access in Canada is the same as the Internet in most of the rest of the world. The cira.ca domain name resolves to the same website in Montreal as it does in Kuala Lumpur or San Francisco. Practices like DNS blocking are a step toward fragmenting the Internet. It undermines the very structure of the Internet," the regulator warns.
"I encourage the Québec government to not punish the Internet for the actions of a few people. The consequences of engaging in DNS blocking are not worth the gains it expects to see, especially in terms of the security vulnerabilities users may face."

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