Last night I spent an inordinate amount of time on reddit looking at pictures of baby hedgehogs, reading a Q&A with a theoretical physicist, and catching up on the intended blackouts protesting the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its sister bill, Protect IP Act (PIPA).
Haven’t heard about SOPA? It’s no wonder, since the mainstream media has been curiously silent on the issue. Maybe it’s because most of the big news outlets are owned by companies supporting SOPA. Nonetheless, reddit and others, such as Tucows, Cheezburger, game developer Red 5 Studios, and hacktivist group Anonymous, hope to make the issue broadly known with a coordinated internet blackout scheduled for January 18th. Things will really get interesting if the "nuclear option" is implemented where the likes of Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, Ebay, Yahoo!, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Mozilla, Twitter, and PayPal "go simultaneously dark" to join them in protest of the bill.
You may have heard a blip of a news story during the Christmas holidays related to SOPA. Reddit users protested web-hosting giant Go Daddy for its initial SOPA support with an organized "Dump Go Daddy" day. More than 37,000 domains were transferred on December 29th, leading the company to reverse its support of SOPA.
A quick summary of SOPA
The SOPA bill aims to protect American intellectual property, which is certainly justifiable given the amount of pirated material on the internet. It’s the form that this protection takes that is getting internet companies and their users in a tizzy.
SOPA would establish a system for taking down websites (the language is directed toward “rogue” foreign sites) that the U.S. Justice Department determines to be dedicated to copyright infringement. The DoJ would be allowed to demand that search engines, social networking sites and domain name services block access to the targeted site, without a court hearing or a trial. Opponents claim that the bill violates the First Amendment, compromises internet security, and threatens technology innovation. The fear is that SOPA could evolve into a general tool for internet censorship - The Great Firewall of America.
CNET addressed some security-related implications of SOPA in a series of articles.
One big one is how it interacts with the domain name system and a set of security improvements to it known as DNSSEC.
The idea of DNSSEC is to promote end-to-end encryption of domain names, meaning there's no break in the chain between a website and its customer. That technique is designed to prevent malware from infecting computers and directing them to rogue sites, which would mean typing in bankofamerica.com would point you to a fake Web site without your knowledge.
Requiring Internet providers to redirect allegedly piratical domain names to, say, the FBI's server isn’t compatible with DNSSEC.
To learn more about SOPA and what it would mean to the average internet user, check out this SOPA FAQ from CNET.
Update: Don't try to look up SOPA on Wikipedia this Wednesday. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, announced Monday night that they will black out the English language version of their website from midnight Eastern Standard Time (0500 GMT) on Tuesday night until midnight Wednesday to protest anti-piracy legislation under consideration in Congress.