IGP is pleased to report that we have received a $150,000 grant from the Internet Society Foundation to study the CA/Browser Forum and its governance of Web, Code-signing and other Public Key Infrastructures (PKI).

We will be looking at PKI as a transnational critical infrastructure developed, operated, and regulated by non-state actors. Responding to current concerns about “fragmentation” of the Internet and its relation to security concerns, our research explores the way private sector governance mechanisms interact with PKI technology to produce trust and security on the global Internet.

There has always been a tension between the global connectivity of the Internet and the territorial jurisdiction of governments. Those tensions are starting to intersect with basic coordination mechanisms of the Internet. This problem was illustrated by the European Commission’s recent attempt to revise Article 45 of its eIDAS regulation to force browsers in their jurisdiction to include government-designated “trust service providers” (TSPs) in their root stores, which clashed with the procedures and policies of the existing Web PKI system. The intersection of private sector and governmental policy, including the vetting of national Certificate Authorities and the problem of nation-states not trusting each other, will be one of the focal points of the study.

The research will also assess the economic sustainability of global PKI governance. It will focus in particular on the short- and long-term effects of Let’s Encrypt, a successful free certificate provider. It will examine the ways changing CA market shares, competition among browsers and OS platforms, and other techno-economic trends affect the cooperative governance structure of WebPKI.

The PIs for this project are Dr Milton Mueller, Professor at the GT Schools of Public Policy and Cybersecurity and Privacy, and Dr Karl Grindal, Assistant Professor of Security Studies, University of New Hampshire.

Some preliminary results will be presented at IGP’s 7th Annual Conference, “From Internet Governance to Digital Political Economy,” October 17-18 in The Hague, Netherlands.

The Internet Society Foundation funds initiatives that “strengthen the Internet in function and reach so that it can effectively serve all people.” It supports “efforts to ensure that the Internet is open, globally-connected, secure, and trustworthy. We champion the use of the network as a critical technical infrastructure that can bring communities better education, healthcare and economic opportunity.” IGP’s work will be in full alignment with this vision, and we extend thanks to the Foundation board and Mariana Diaz, our Grant Specialist.