Canada must build routing infrastructure to skirt US snooping, CIRA says

Editor’s note: Inspired by this article, CIRA has created an online forum for further discussion on the topic. Visit it and leave a comment.

Canada saw another Internet Exchange Point (IXP) booted up Sept. 26 when the Manitoba Internet Exchange (MBIX) flipped on the power to its switch housed in the Grain Exchange Building in Winnipeg.

Its the fifth IXP to officially launch as part of a Canadian Internet Registration Authority initiative to see a number of the infrastructure anchors set down across the country. Toronto is home to TorIX, the country’s oldest exchange point, Calgary hosts one (YYCIX), Ottawa has OttIX, and the Montreal Internet Exchange (QIX) opened its doors May 1. MBIX has invited, but is yet to peer with, several of the region’s Internet service providers, including MTS Allstream Inc., Rogers Cable Communications Inc, Telus Advanced Communications, Shaw Communications Inc., and Bell Canada.

Current members include VOI Networks Inc., Akamai International, and LES.NET. Hurricane Electric is another peer on the network, which is a wholesale seller of Internet backbone and colocation services.

Creating a local IXP where carriers and communications providers directly connect with each other to exchange traffic means that Internet traffic no longer has to travel through major U.S.-based Internet pipelines just to reach the other side of town. That means faster response times for Internet users, and reduced bandwidth costs for service providers.  But having a network of IXPs that will move Canadian traffic horizontally across the country, rather than ping-ponging back and forth from U.S. hubs, will also help Canadian Internet users avoid exposure to the kind of surveillance activities that have recently come to light south of the border, according to Byron Holland, president and CEO at CIRA.

“All the events coming out of the U.S. with the NSA [National Security Agency] and the PRISM program highlight that it’s a good idea to keep traffic in your won jurisdiction as much as you can,” he says.

Since former NSA employee Edward Snowden handed over secret documents that revealed the PRISM surveillance program to British newspaper The Guardian in June, more evidence has been trickling out about the level of surveillance various security agencies building around U.S. citizens. The latest revelation reported today in The Guardian shows a different NSA program, codenamed Marina, stores online metadata of millions of Internet users for up to a year. Among details stored are browser experience, contact information, and content used to develop profile summaries. Worries over whether Canadian data could be caught up in such surveillance programs could further increase the aversion to U.S. data centres and exchange points that was first spurred by sections of the Patriot Act. The legislation, introduced shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, allows U.S. authorities to seize and review data without a warrant and without informing the owner of the data.


Recreation of boundless information global heat map of data collection from its snapshot. The color scheme ranges from green (least subjected to surveillance) through yellow and orange to red (most surveillance). [Image and caption from Wikipedia]
A majority of traffic travelling east to west across the country must transit to U.S. exchange points located in places like New York or Chicago before reaching its destination, Holland says. Even a significant amount of regional traffic, sent within the same city, may end up routing through the U.S. without a local IXP to guide it.

“I could be sending you an e-mail from downtown Ottawa to another point in Ottawa, and there’s a 40 per cent change that will go through the U.S.,” he says. IXPs “will significantly reduce the chance of that happening.”

Bill Reid is a co-founder of the Manitoba Exchange Point. The former member of CIRA’s board of directors, Reid started talking about the idea of an IXP with two local Internet service providers three years ago. MBIX is actually the first IXP that CIRA chose to support, and it has provided it with funding to buy the Cisco switch and connect it to the grid.

He says the major benefit of not routing traffic through the U.S. is reduced latency, not avoiding security concerns. Reid not concerned about security of traffic going to the U.S. “It’s hard for an individual to know where their traffic is going. If you have a Gmail account, you aren’t keeping your data out of the States,” he says.

The MBIX Ethernet switch runs on a Cisco Nexus 7004 and allows IPv4 and IPv6 unicast traffic. Connection speeds are available in three tiers, 100 Mbps, 1 Gbps, and 10 Gbps. Fees to join the exchange include a port fee of $1200 per year. There’s a $500 install fee, but that is being waived until June 30, 2014.

Plans for other new IXPs across Canada are in the works, Holland says. He spoke to on the phone from Vancouver, where he is taking part in a town hall about opening an IXP there. From there, other possibilities are Halifax, and other mid-size Ontario cities like Windsor.

ISPs will be able to reduce transit costs. “A big benefit is that it attracts other companies from outside the province to locate a presence here.” “Hurricane Electric wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the IX point… and they charge a fraction of the transit fees as Shaw or MTS.”



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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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