The 13 geeks who rule the Internet (updated)

This passage from a recent piece by Joshua Davis in Wired concerning last spring's cyber attack on Estonia's Internet infrastructure reads like a deleted scene from The Matrix:

Across the dinner table from Aarelaid sat Kurtis Lindqvist, the man in charge of running Stockholm-based Netnod, one of the world's 13 root DNS servers, which direct global Internet traffic. That makes Lindqvist a sort of Olympian in the IT crowd. He is a handsome 32-year-old with a dimpled chin and close-cropped hair. By day, he wears a trench coat and shades, but the geek in him is just below the surface. He loves to play badminton and often programs late into the night. And, befitting the trench-coat-and-shades look, he belongs to a clandestine alliance of Internet elite with the power to cut off global Internet flows. He's one of the so-called Vetted: the select few who are trusted by the world's largest ISPs and can ask them to kick rogue computers off the network.

The Vetted constantly crisscross the globe to expand their network of trusted members, and by a stroke of luck, Lindqvist and some others were in Tallinn that week for what was referred to as a BOF — a birds-of-a-feather — meeting with European network operators.

So what is this mysterious geek Illuminati?

As far as I can tell, "the Vetted" refers to the Internet Architecture Board. The IAB traces its origins back to DARPA, the tech-research division of the U.S. Department of Defense that created an early precursor of the Internet in the 1970s. Today, the IAB, no longer under DoD control, is responsible for overseeing "aspects of the architecture for the protocols and procedures used by the Internet." The IAB also oversees the Internet Engineering Task Force, of which Lindqvist is a member. The IETF oversees global TCP/IP protocols and does indeed hold regular "Birds-of-a-Feather" meetings. Far from being a clandestine society, however, the IETF is an open community whose meetings are open to anyone who happens to be interested. 

As for the enigmatic Mr. Lindqvist, he seems bemused by all the attention, writing on his personal blog:

No, I don't like staying up at night. I even told Wired to correct this. I like to sleep at night. Also, I don't think I have done serious programming for years...

I also believe that I have never owned a trench-coat. I do own a half-long beige jacket though...:-)

I'm still not sure I trust a guy who uses emoticons to protect us from Russian cyber terrorists.

UPDATE: In an e-mail exchange with Blake, Passport's editor, Lindqvist writes:

Actually, exactly what [the Vetted] refers to I suggest you ask Wired about, I have never attributed this term to anyone - and I am not exactly sure myself. Second guessing the author of the Wired article, I would assume this does not refer to the IAB as the IAB has no operational role at all. It has an oversight function inside the IETF, that sets the technical standards for the Internet. It's members are appointed by a well defined process inside the IETF.

No word yet from the folks at Wired, however.


Morning Brief, Wednesday, September 5


Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images News

Germany foiled an alleged bombing plot and arrested three suspected terrorists, two of them converts to Islam.

The OECD, a prominent economic think tank in Paris, is forecasting lower U.S. growth due to the credit crunch.

A British judge is calling for a national DNA database.


Mattel is recalling more toys made in China.

Pervez Musharraf may declare a state of emergency, according to the head of Pakistan's ruling party.

Officials in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines complain of the inferior goods and superior attitudes of the Chinese. 

Japan's envoy says he had "meaningful exchanges" with his North Korean counterpart.

It's not just the Pentagon: Chinese hackers allegedly targeted Britain's Foreign Office, too.

Middle East

U.S. military commanders in Baghdad are disputing a harsh assessment of Iraq by the General Accountability Office, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress.

Tough economic times are playing into the hands of Iran's hardliners.

A top Israeli court ordered changes in the route of Israel's separation barrier.


The Washington Post has harsh words for Mohamed ElBaradei of the IAEA.

In Colombia, many of yesterday's paramilitaries are today's criminal gangsters.

Fed up with immigration hassles, some U.S. farmers are moving their operations to Mexico.

Today's Agenda

Yesterday on Passport