What is Namecoin DNS useful for?

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biolizard89
Posts: 1932
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What is Namecoin DNS useful for?

Post by biolizard89 » Tue Feb 09, 2016 2:26 pm

Namecoin's DNS namespace is often described and marketed as a censorship-resistant DNS system. I think this may be shortsighted and counterproductive.

Let's say you want to register a domain name that is at risk of seizure in your jurisdiction. There's generally nothing stopping you from buying a domain name from a registrar in a different, more friendly jurisdiction. For example, Chinese anti-government activists can get a US-based domain name, and American journalists publishing documents that embarrass the U.S. government can get a Russian domain name. There's a well-known name for this: jurisdictional arbitrage. It's also how Tor exit traffic works: if you're in China and you want to read about Tienanmen Square, you can use a Tor circuit that exits in the U.S. where such material isn't blocked.

So what use case is left for Namecoin under this logic? Probably only material which is illegal in all jurisdictions. That means it's restricted to use cases that very few people care about, or have any interest in supporting.

This is the conclusion that is easy to draw if we accept that Namecoin is primarily an anti-censorship tool. However, it's pretty clear to me that this is a false conclusion, because Namecoin isn't an anti-censorship tool. Namecoin domain names have an important advantage over any other global, human-meaningful TLD: they are resistant to hijacking (e.g. MITM attacks). Large businesses, and to some extent even governments, care a lot about resisting hijacking/MITM attacks. When large businesses get owned, they get extremely bad PR, their stock price and profits may drop, and they may be subject to criminal or civil liability depending on whether they took sufficient due diligence steps to prevent it. Governments don't like the negative economic effects of businesses in their jurisdiction getting owned. None of these entities care at all about resistance to censorship. And there's no such thing as jurisdictional arbitrage to get resistance to hijacking/MITM attacks. That gives us a huge advantage over ICANN-based DNS which is readily marketable. (Resistance to censorship is a cool side feature that some people will like, but it's not the thing that really distinguishes us.)

When I talk to people who are not free speech activists, the thing they find most interesting about Namecoin DNS is the security, not the censorship resistance. When I was looking for teammates for the Borderless Block Party hackathon in November 2015, one of the people I talked to was a business-oriented person (i.e. not primarily a coder), and his immediate thought when I told him about Namecoin and TLS was that it's immediately valuable to businesses. I gave a talk about Namecoin and TLS to a roomful of social science majors circa March/April 2015, and they understood the usefulness of resistance to hijacking/MITM attacks, while I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have been interested in resistance to censorship.

When I do talk to people who are free speech activists, they tend to be people who also understand that you don't have free speech if someone is wiretapping you without your consent. As such, while they may like the censorship-resistance properties of Namecoin, they also think the hijacking/MITM protections are important.

When we've applied for funding, we often get a reply that we're targeting a tiny demographic, and therefore we will have trouble achieving sufficient adoption. This is, quite honestly, a fair criticism of the way we've been marketing Namecoin. Very few people will go out of their way to buy domains with a product that resists DNS censorship, when there are a lot of other ways to do that which don't require visitors to install special software. And very few people will go out of their way to install special software that lets them view domains that are censored, because very few people care about DNS censorship to begin with. (Lots of people install Tor, but that's because many people are affected by network censorship; far more than are affected by DNS censorship. Also Tor is primarily marketed as anonymity, not censorship resistance, so many Tor users are using it for privacy rather than for accessing blocked sites.) However, a substantially higher number of people will go out of their way to use special software that improves the security of their private data. Look at how much money businesses, governments, and consumers spend on computer security products and consulting. There is a strong market here, and it's growing, in part due to media coverage of both Ed Snowden's leaks and the perceived increase in cybercrime. This is not to argue that marketing Namecoin as security software will magically bring us worldwide adoption overnight. But while it's still an uphill battle, that hill becomes substantially less steep.

Obviously, I really like both the censorship resistance and security properties of Namecoin. I think they're both highly desirable properties in a DNS system. But I think it makes a lot of sense to focus on security as a primary marketable feature. (This is not a criticism of anyone in particular; I'm definitely as guilty as anyone else here, seeing as I wrote software called FreeSpeechMe.)

(This post is based on a #namecoin conversation between myself and Hugo on Jan 7, 2016.)

Opinions?
Jeremy Rand, Lead Namecoin Application Engineer
NameID: id/jeremy
DyName: Dynamic DNS update client for .bit domains.

Donations: BTC 1EcUWRa9H6ZuWPkF3BDj6k4k1vCgv41ab8 ; NMC NFqbaS7ReiQ9MBmsowwcDSmp4iDznjmEh5

johnc
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Re: What is Namecoin DNS useful for?

Post by johnc » Tue Feb 09, 2016 6:59 pm

From a regular internet user, the main use cases could be this:

Case 1.
To find the real website: for example eztv.it was hijacked. Owner can redirect to the replacement website.

Or for anyone, cheap domain registration, let's say i have my web on a free hosting, so i use webpage.bit and if tomorrow i have to change to another hosting then with namecoin this is cheap and fast.


Case 2: Send money or messages to the owner of the website. Or anyone.
for example i want to tell my friends, hey just send me bitcoin to id/username instead typing my long btc address. Hopefully bitcoin/namecoin clients somehow implement this.

biolizard89
Posts: 1932
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Re: What is Namecoin DNS useful for?

Post by biolizard89 » Wed Feb 10, 2016 5:45 am

johnc wrote:From a regular internet user, the main use cases could be this:

Case 1.
To find the real website: for example eztv.it was hijacked. Owner can redirect to the replacement website.

Or for anyone, cheap domain registration, let's say i have my web on a free hosting, so i use webpage.bit and if tomorrow i have to change to another hosting then with namecoin this is cheap and fast.


Case 2: Send money or messages to the owner of the website. Or anyone.
for example i want to tell my friends, hey just send me bitcoin to id/username instead typing my long btc address. Hopefully bitcoin/namecoin clients somehow implement this.
I cannot tell what you're replying to. If you're just listing ideas for things Namecoin can do, rather than replying to my post, might be good to make a new topic for such things. This thread is about whether Namecoin DNS's main draw is resistance to hijacking or resistance to censorship.
Jeremy Rand, Lead Namecoin Application Engineer
NameID: id/jeremy
DyName: Dynamic DNS update client for .bit domains.

Donations: BTC 1EcUWRa9H6ZuWPkF3BDj6k4k1vCgv41ab8 ; NMC NFqbaS7ReiQ9MBmsowwcDSmp4iDznjmEh5

cassini
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Re: What is Namecoin DNS useful for?

Post by cassini » Wed Feb 10, 2016 11:57 am

I've been of the opinion for quite a while that Namecoin has put too much emphasis on advertizing its DNS feature. We should put some effort in promoting its key/value storage capabilities and the potential use cases. Proof-of-Existence and decentralized IoT management are only two examples.

That said, we shouldn't close the door forever for future DNS applications. It would need at least three or four full-time developers for deploying a .bit system with massively improved useability, though. You never know ... there is lots of VC money around.

While all your examples are perfectly valid, they explain the ICANN DNS situation only partially. A main issue is the centralized/hierarchical structure of the DNS. Remember: ICANN was controlled by the U.S. DoC. In 2009 the DoC officially gave up its control over ICANN, however:
According to Levins, this will not spell an end to ties with the U.S. government. "We want to be accountable to everyone, including the U.S., and to have a continuing relationship with the U.S. government. We don't want to sever that relationship" (source). Honi soit qui mal y pense.

biolizard89
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Re: What is Namecoin DNS useful for?

Post by biolizard89 » Fri Feb 12, 2016 2:20 am

cassini wrote:I've been of the opinion for quite a while that Namecoin has put too much emphasis on advertizing its DNS feature. We should put some effort in promoting its key/value storage capabilities and the potential use cases. Proof-of-Existence and decentralized IoT management are only two examples.

That said, we shouldn't close the door forever for future DNS applications. It would need at least three or four full-time developers for deploying a .bit system with massively improved useability, though. You never know ... there is lots of VC money around.

While all your examples are perfectly valid, they explain the ICANN DNS situation only partially. A main issue is the centralized/hierarchical structure of the DNS. Remember: ICANN was controlled by the U.S. DoC. In 2009 the DoC officially gave up its control over ICANN, however:
According to Levins, this will not spell an end to ties with the U.S. government. "We want to be accountable to everyone, including the U.S., and to have a continuing relationship with the U.S. government. We don't want to sever that relationship" (source). Honi soit qui mal y pense.
Yes; despite the fact that I mostly work on DNS related applications, I agree that it would be good to have some more active research on other applications.

A lot of this depends on who our audience is. There are certainly some audiences who primarily care about ICANN being (perceived as) a puppet of the U.S. I think there's a larger audience that cares about TLS trust, and I think the TLS trust audience has been woefully neglected lately, in favor of anti-censorship stuff. There's also presumably an audience that cares about .onion naming, but this audience is unlikely to be interested in Namecoin unless we can either achieve better privacy or provide some very clear use cases where non-anonymous .onion naming makes sense. (There are plenty of such use cases.)

This is further complicated by the fact that listing all of our use cases on namecoin.org's front page is likely to result in a large wall of text, which it seems the average A.D.D.-afflicted internet user can't handle. :/
Jeremy Rand, Lead Namecoin Application Engineer
NameID: id/jeremy
DyName: Dynamic DNS update client for .bit domains.

Donations: BTC 1EcUWRa9H6ZuWPkF3BDj6k4k1vCgv41ab8 ; NMC NFqbaS7ReiQ9MBmsowwcDSmp4iDznjmEh5

haiqu
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Re: What is Namecoin DNS useful for?

Post by haiqu » Wed Mar 23, 2016 12:25 am

I have a specific use that isn't covered above, and wonder if it's currently possible.

Altcoin mining.

One of the biggest problems coin miners face is random attacks from hackers trying to get into the system and steal coins, or at least mess with the system. On any given day my auth log shows at least a handful of individuals - mostly in China - running dictionary attacks on the SSH password, trying to breach the system.

A second issue is that this often requires large numbers of IP addresses, which are hard to pry from ISPs these days. Joining APNIC is ridiculously expensive and yet IPv6 blocks can be had relatively cheaply or even free. And since IPv6 hasn't been taken up to any great extent, and has so many addresses available, the attacks would be reduced accordingly. At least the random ones anyhow.

So my thought is that if Namecoin could work as a way of utilizing IPv6 addresses without needing a centralized service like that provided by http://www.gogo6.com/freenet6 then it would find a lot of happy users. It would involve setting up IPv4 tunneling, but could use the existing distributed DNS in some extended form.

I think you'll find that there are also a lot of people running IoT devices who wouldn't mind getting off the IPv4 roundabout as well. A new market for Namecoin? Comments?

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