How it all began
In 2014, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Forum for Standardisation held a meeting with representatives of the Dutch internet community. The reason: numerous standards were being developed to improve the internet and make it more secure, but their adoption was often very slow. Gerben Klein Baltink was one of the people at the meeting. "Our perception was that it wasn't so much the technical people within organisations who were reluctant to adopt the new standards as the management. Managers often have little insight into the benefits, and see only the cost." The group therefore decided that the best strategy was to reach out to company managers.
Reaching the decision-makers
On the back of that decision, the Platform for Internet Standards was established, and Klein Baltink was invited to chair it. "Everyone involved is very committed. All of them come from the non-profit sector. It was deliberately set up that way, because we want to be independent and avoid any hint of conflicted interests. Having many different constituencies within the internet community working together on the Platform is a very positive aspect. People from abroad often compliment us on the way we do that in the Netherlands."
Why standards are important
SIDN's involvement in the Platform's promotion of new internet standards is entirely consistent with its role, according to Marco Davids, Research Engineer at SIDN Labs: "Standards are essential to the internet. They create a level playing field, opening the way for market participation by smaller players. First and foremost, however, they support security. Security standards protect against spam, phishing and other forms of abuse. So, by backing the adoption of standards, we're fulfilling our mission, which is to promote safe and convenient digital living for everyone. It's in line with activities such as encouraging the use of DNSSEC, StartTLS, DMARC and IPv6 via the Registrar Scorecard, supporting open-source initiatives, and SIDN Labs' involvement in the development of new standards through the IETF."
Platform members meet several times a year, and soon had the idea of creating the website internet.nl. It's a simple concept: a utility where you enter a URL and are immediately told what internet standards the relevant site supports. You can do the same with an e-mail address, and you can check the security of your local connection as well. The website was launched in 2015 at the Global Cyber Security Conference in The Hague. It was subsequently publicised at numerous gatherings and congresses, and quickly started bearing fruit. "The rise in the implementation of standards was steeper that we had dared to hope," recalls Klein Baltink. "The numbers shot up, not just a few percent." Despite its success, Klein Baltink doesn't expect the site to become redundant any time soon. "Crooks are constantly coming up with new ways to get around security measures," he says. "Internet standards have to keep evolving in response. So there'll always be a need for an independent test environment like internet.nl."
The Platform for Internet Standards holds a number of meetings each year. New standards are often added to the website, and existing ones get updated. Changes don't happen overnight, though. A member makes a proposal, which is then discussed at an expert session. Platform members also look into the background to sluggish adoption of the relevant standard. Is it difficult to implement? Is it expensive? The conclusions are reflected in the way that the standard is ultimately added to the site.
Around the world, countless tools are available for checking whether a website meets certain security standards. However, there are not many sites like internet.nl. Recently, therefore, the Platform for Internet Standards decided to make the software behind internet.nl open source. So people in other countries can create similar sites of their own. Meanwhile, the Platform is constantly looking to add new features to the Dutch site. Soon, for example, internet.nl will enable visitors to compare multiple websites. That'll be useful to site administrators, who want to know how their site shapes up against others. With its added functionality, internet.nl will serve as a full-featured test centre.