IDN Acceptance initiatives

Occasionally, unseen infrastructure affects universal acceptance for IDNs. One case in point is a X.509 digital certificate. A digital certificate is a digital form of identification, much like a passport or driver’s license. A digital certificate is a digital credential that provides information about the identity of an entity as well as other supporting information. The certificate is issued by an authority, referred to as a certification authority (CA). Because a digital certificate is issued by a certification authority, that authority guarantees the validity of the information in the certificate.

X.509 digital certificates are crucial to the Internet because they are used to authenticate the ends of secure communications channels. When connecting to financial institutions, health care providers or other providers of confidential or sensitive services Transport Layer Security (TLS) is used. And, TLS uses the digital certificate to verify that the system providing the service is really who they say they are.

As a result, it’s crucial for the digital certificate to support IDNs so that secure services can be located at an IDN and not just at ASCII domain names. The problem for X.509 certificates is that they only support ASCII text for the owner of the certificate. The solution, adopted by the Certificate Authority industry is to place the Punycode version of the IDN in the digital certificate. This solution is now in wide deployment amongst providers of certificates.  In 2016, Let’s Encrypt, a free, automated and open certificate authority began offering support for issuing certificates that contain Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs). That means that there is support for enabling https:/SSL/TLS secure web sites and services at no cost for developers around the world.

In previous years we have identified education and outreach as one of the key enablers of acceptance for IDNs. In 2015 we reported on the emergence of an industry-led activity on Universal Acceptance for all TLDs.  Called the Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG), and funded by ICANN, this group has been able to build on its initial efforts. It has begun to build a library of publicly available documents related to universal acceptance, work with developers of open source languages and platforms to see if they support universal acceptance, and craft outreach tools for programmers, developers, enterprise management and other key influencers of technology adoption.

Other initiatives are often specific to particular countries or languages.  In 2016, a group led by CNNIC, ICANN and APTLD, including more than 20 participants representing over ten countries and regions, launched the Internationalised Top Level Domain Initiative (ITI). The initiative aims to further research into and application of Internationalised Domain Names and Email Address Internationalisation (EAI) worldwide. The initiative was launched at the opening of the third Asia Pacific Internet Resources Capacity Building Program (APICB), which aims to help address the uneven development within and among developing countries in the Asia Pacific.