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Until recently, the Internet has been under control of its inventor, the US.

If I understand correctly the ICANN and the IANA have been administrating IP address space and the domain name system respectively.

I know there are restrictions for using MOOCs like Coursera in Cuba and Iran, and other 'enemy states'. Taken in to consideration that in the lifetime of the Internet, North Korea has always been an enemy.

But why then, has the US granted them this fundamental access to begin with; why has North Korea and other US enemies been assigned IP addresses and TLDs?

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    Just to be clear, ICANN is owned by the government, but is not controlled by the government. The Internet only works because everyone cooperates, and it's in everyone's best interests to continue to cooperate. – Chris S Oct 10 '14 at 4:40
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    Until recently, the Internet has been under control of it's inventor, the US. Is US the inventor of the Internet? I always thought it was Tim Berners-Lee and co at CERN (Europe). – user4592 Oct 10 '14 at 15:24
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    The US (DOD/ARPA/DARPA) did invent the Internet - the global IP network. TBL/CERN developed the World Wide Web (HTTP servers, HTML, and web browsers layered over the Internet). – Andrew Medico Oct 10 '14 at 16:11
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    Seriously, this kind of thinking is really unreasonable, in my opinion. International Organizations are just that. International. The US does not "control" or "own" the Internet more than it "controls" or "owns" every individual country having ISPs. – ThunderGr Oct 11 '14 at 11:07
  • @ThunderGr What makes you think ICANN and IANA are international organizations? – svick Oct 11 '14 at 14:49
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It's important to understand the technological limitations here. In theory, IP addresses are globally unique and assigned through a hierarchy of non-profits, with IANA at the root. So, in theory, if IANA wanted to prevent North Korea from having IP addresses, they could do that (they don't actually want this, as explained in other answers). In practice, it's a lot messier.

Each internet service provider (ISP) peers with other neighboring ISPs, and with Content Delivery Networks (CDNs). This means that they agree to exchange traffic at one or more fixed Internet Exchange Points (IXP). An IXP is, basically, a bunch of switches, which both ISPs or CDNs connect to in order to exchange traffic. But that's just the physical hardware. There's another piece to this, the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP).

An Autonomous System (AS) is an ISP, CDN, or other large network (e.g. Google) which is responsible for administering its own IP addresses. BGP is the "language" that AS's use to tell each other* things like "I know how to reach IP range X, so send all its traffic my way." In theory, each AS is responsible for filtering these instructions to only include the routes that "make sense." Otherwise, for example, an AS might erroneously or maliciously claim to own "All of the internet" (or some appreciable subset thereof), and send traffic in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, that actually happens on a fairly regular basis, see for example this recent incident, or this list of older incidents. It's a serious problem, but not the subject of this question.

My point is that BGP is a distributed protocol. There is no central authority with the technical ability to unilaterally control which IP addresses are routed where. Instead, each AS decides which IPs it will route internally, and which IPs it will route to another AS. If, for example, a North Korean AS and a Chinese AS agreed to route some block of ostensibly Chinese IP addresses into the North Korean AS, there is nothing anyone could do about it. In fact, this behavior would likely be invisible to most of the internet, unless you happen to operate an AS that peers with North Korea, or have some reason to suspect a particular connected device of being in North Korea and not China. But North Korea need not peer with anyone other than Chinese ISPs, and internet access is heavily restricted in North Korea, so this could be effectively kept secret.

In short: At a technical level, IANA doesn't try to restrict IP addresses in part because doing so is impractical at best and wholly ineffective at worst.


* BGP can also be used within an AS, called Internal BGP. We're mostly not talking about that use case, but you should be aware that routing information is needed throughout any large network, not just at the edges. IBGP is one way of distributing that information, but not the only one.

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Some points not yet mentioned in any answer:

  • Embassies in North Korea need the Internet. Currently, 25 countries have embassies in Pyongyang.
  • Very restricted access to the Internet is possible for authorized government-approved officials.
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I think the good question would be: "What's the point of giving IP addresses and TLD to North Korea"? (for example, what would they do with it?)

But this point is also valid for all the Samoan Islands and others. Anyway, that's the spirit of the Internet: every single country has the right to have IP addresses and TLDs and the U.S.A do not control the Internet and have no right to ban a country from having IP addresses and TLDs (not that they would be against having the right to do it, but they can't...)

  • Please note I am not stating a position for or against, but where, exactly, does the right to have IP addresses and TLDs come from? – CGCampbell Sep 9 at 18:58
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The way the Internet works not granting them IP addresses would have been pretty much impossible. There are agreements that blocks of IP addresses and TLDs are for certain countries/regions, but the protocols themselves don't really care if that Chinese IP address is from China, North Korea, or anywhere else.

The Internet is also so useful and amazing because it is one interconnected network for the most part. Trying to keep a county off the Internet would lead to other countries creating fragmented networks that may only be regionally connected which would greatly restrict the communication aspect and the Internet we know today wouldn't exist.

Also the U.S. really only is against the governments of nations like North Korea not the people themselves, while North Koreans might not have Internet access it's not because of the U.S. In fact, working to make sure everyone has Internet may in the long run benefit the U.S. Look at the handful of protest from Iran that the Internet has helped organize, or the Chinese people that can get the truth about their government despite the great firewall.

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IANA isn't responsible for allocating IP address ranges to countries. Instead, it delegates allocations to one of the five regional Internet registries. In the case of North Korea, the RIR responsible would be APNIC. Theoretically, the US could mess with APNIC's IP address blocks, but at the risk of angering quite a few people (including - but not limited to - the Chinese, Australians and Indians).

Furthermore we know that at least one of the two currently known North Korean IP address ranges1 is owned by a Chinese entity: China Netcom. Even if the US could somehow deny North Korea their IP address ranges, there'd be very little stopping them from using Chinese ones.

1 175.45.176.0 – 175.45.179.255 & 210.52.109.0 – 210.52.109.255

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Another factor - it's in United States' interest for North Korea to have internet. Dan Carlin on a recent podcast formalized a statement that I largely agree with - Soviet Union was brought down as much by economic/technological competition, as by communications. Beatles, Rock'n'Roll and Jeans.

The more the people in despotic regimes like North Korea have access to information, the shorter the lifespan of the regime.

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    This also nicely answers why the US (and the EU) is trying so hard to restrict, censor and control the internet - as governments grow bigger and more powerful, freedom goes away. Then one day, Locke and Demosthenes come, and boom :D – Luaan Oct 10 '14 at 8:13
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    @Luaan - I wasn't aware that US is "trying so hard to restrict, censor and control the internet". Any proof? (leaving aside issues of copyright protection - which is about corporate interests and NOT government stability; and child pornography - which is about genuine attempt to do good and again not government stability). – user4012 Oct 10 '14 at 15:11
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    @Luaan - There's a difference between "we get to listen in" and "we get to control". – user4012 Oct 10 '14 at 15:12
  • Oh, there would be some difference, if the law required you to have proof to force a shutdown of some site. Sadly, that is not the case - there's enough wiggle-room in the laws. Also, when did child pornography become an universal evil? Have you the power to say what is good and what is evil? :P – Luaan Oct 10 '14 at 15:42
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    @Luaan - According to prevailing morality in most of the civilized world, it's evil. When you have USA liberals, USA conservatives, USSR/Russia government, Fidel Castro and Iran and Saudi Arabia and Chinise Communist party on the same side of an issue, it's as closed to being undisputed universal morality as you can ever get. – user4012 Oct 10 '14 at 15:47

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