The big Pentagon internet mystery now partially solved

FILE - This March 27, 2008, file photo, shows the Pentagon in Washington. After weeks of wonder by the networking community, the Pentagon has now provided a very terse explanation for why it hired a shadowy company residing at a shared workspace above a Florida bank to manage a colossal, previously idle chunk of the internet that it owns. Many basic questions remain unanswered, beginning with why it chose for the task a company that seems not to have existed until September. The company, Global Resource Systems, has not responded to attempts by The Associated Press to seek comment. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
FILE - This March 27, 2008, file photo, shows the Pentagon in Washington. After weeks of wonder by the networking community, the Pentagon has now provided a very terse explanation for why it hired a shadowy company residing at a shared workspace above a Florida bank to manage a colossal, previously idle chunk of the internet that it owns. Many basic questions remain unanswered, beginning with why it chose for the task a company that seems not to have existed until September. The company, Global Resource Systems, has not responded to attempts by The Associated Press to seek comment. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File) (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

BOSTON – A very strange thing happened on the internet the day President Joe Biden was sworn in. A shadowy company residing at a shared workspace above a Florida bank announced to the world’s computer networks that it was now managing a colossal, previously idle chunk of the internet owned by the U.S. Department of Defense.

That real estate has since more than quadrupled to 175 million addresses — about 1/25th the size of the current internet.

”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. It’s also more than twice the size of the internet space actually used by the Pentagon.

After weeks of wonder by the networking community, the Pentagon has now 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 a company that seems not to have existed until September.

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 statement did not specify whether the “pilot project” would involve outside contractors.

The Pentagon periodically contends with unauthorized squatting on its space, in part because there has been a shortage of first-generation internet addresses since 2011; they now sell at auction for upwards of $25 each.

Madory said advertising the address space will make it easier to chase off squatters and allow the U.S. military to “collect a massive amount of background internet traffic for threat intelligence.”