January 20, 2021 was a very, very strange day. Donald Trump gave an “I’ll be back” speech before jetting off to his Florida retirement home without attending President Joe Biden’s swearing in. With the world watching the staunchly anti-LBGTQ Mike Pence handed a golden microphone to Lady Gaga for her performance of the National Anthem just before Biden took the oath of office. Never saw that one coming.
But perhaps the weirdest thing that day was that a shadowy company whose home is shared office space above a Florida bank, announced to the world’s computer networks that it was now managing a massive, previously idle chunk of the internet owned by the Department of Defense.
Since then, mystery and suspicion about the development has deepened because the Pentagon has refused to explain exactly why it made the move, why it chose that particular company or why the seismic transaction took place in the last hours of Trump’s presidency.
How big a deal is this? As a result of the Pentagon’s actions, Global Resource Systems LLC, a company that didn’t even exist in September and with no record of government contracts, now has control of 175 million IP addresses. That’s about 1/25th the size of the entire current internet. That’s also more than twice the size of the internet space actually used by the Pentagon.
“It is massive. That is the biggest thing in the history of the internet,” said Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at Kentik, a network operating company.
On Friday the Pentagon provided a very terse explanation for what it’s doing. But it has not answered many basic questions, beginning with why it chose to entrust management of the address space to that company. The military hopes to “assess, evaluate and prevent unauthorized use of DoD IP address space,” said a statement issued Friday by Brett Goldstein, chief of the Pentagon’s Defense Digital Service, which is running the project. It also hopes to “identify potential vulnerabilities” as part of efforts to defend against cyber-intrusions by global adversaries, who are consistently infiltrating U.S. networks, sometimes operating from unused internet address blocks. The Pentagon did not specify whether the “pilot project” would involve outside contractors.
Some cybersecurity experts have theorized that the Pentagon may be using the newly advertised space to create so-called “honeypots,” machines deliberately set up with vulnerabilities to draw in hackers. Or it could be looking to set up dedicated infrastructure — software and servers — to scour internet traffic for suspicious activity.
“This greatly increases the space they could monitor,” said Madory, who published a blog post on the matter Saturday.
News organizations including The Associated Press and The Washington Post have attempted to contact the company but have been rebuffed. The company has no presence on the internet, although it does own the domain grscorp.com. As a result of the transaction, Global Resource Systems LLC, which is incorporated in Delaware, now manages more internet space than China Telecom, AT&T or Comcast.
This is a story that bears watching in the coming weeks.