Wrong DNS choice hurting Caribbean Internet privacy


By Gerard Best

Do anything online and you always leave digital footprints behind. Your Internet-connected devices—phone, laptop, tablet, even your smart appliances—all emit a digital signature that’s personally identifiable. This links your virtual footprint to your social identity. All of which has serious implications for your real-world privacy. But one Internet security body just made a physical move to significantly boost your online privacy.

Everything you do on the internet—whether that’s filing taxes, working from home, watching movies or taking online classes—starts with a Domain Name System (or DNS) event. The DNS is a phonebook for the internet. It’s a framework that translates human-readable domain names into the internet protocol addresses that devices use. Most of us spend little or no time thinking about the DNS because typically our internet service provider simply gives us access to a DNS server, and the DNS quietly does its work in the background. You type into your browser’s URL window, and the DNS dutifully looks up the relevant address so that you can browse to the correct destination.

But this otherwise mundane lookup activity can reveal critically sensitive data about the person using the device. And that has created a strong and dangerous motivation for commercialising unsuspecting users’ personal data. Typically, cybercriminals lead the way as the people we are most afraid of having access to our private data. But some of the popular apps that we use daily are also cause for concern, as they can collect, share and monetise our personal data. 

And it’s not just individual victims who are targeted. Large organisations such as governments, businesses and schools can also fall prey to data harvesting schemes. The stakes are even higher as COVID-19 related public health and safety mandates, from social distancing and quarantines to stay-at-home orders and curfews, threaten to keep millions confined to their homes globally.  In the Caribbean and around the world, the sudden restrictions have forced many to go online for social interactions and business transactions. For many, the internet is the only option. The surge in Internet usage is exposing points of weakness in users’ data privacy practices. And some DNS service providers are cashing in on those vulnerabilities.

But Quad9 is a not-for-profit DNS service provider with a difference. Since its launch in 2017, it has provided DNS services at no cost, with no contract, and without collecting or reselling personal data. Quad9 announced last month that it had moved its headquarters from California, USA to Zürich, Switzerland. The move makes Quad9 the first public DNS security solution to extend European Union-standard General Data Protection Regulation freedoms to all internet users. By using this DNS service, anyone in the Caribbean and worldwide can receive the same fully legally enforced rights as a Swiss citizen.

“The privacy protection claims of DNS security solutions are only meaningful if they are bound under law and enforced by an empowered authority. Privacy policies which are not backed by law are empty promises,” said John Todd, general manager of Quad9.

Three of the four major DNS providers in the world are domiciled in the United States and are subject to the same court in northern California, a jurisdiction that shields them from privacy claims and responsibility to individual users. Quad9 has set itself apart by voluntarily placing itself in a jurisdiction that strictly enforces privacy laws to the highest global standards.

“Quad9 understands the need to complement their secure and privacy-preserving protocols with policies and practices that protect users, too. Based in Europe, Quad9’s service now leverages a strong regulatory environment in the public interest,” said Mallory Knodel, Chief Technology Officer, Centre for Democracy and Technology.

Caribbean Internet users, whether individual or corporate, could all benefit from innovative DNS services that put a strong premium on users’ data privacy and online security. With the latest move from Quad9, the choice is becoming clearer.

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