The US Department of Defense puzzled Internet experts by apparently transferring control of tens of millions of dormant IP addresses to an obscure Florida company just before President Donald Trump left the White House, but the Pentagon has finally offered a partial explanation for why it happened. The Defense Department says it still owns the addresses but that it is using a third-party company in a “pilot” project to conduct security research.
“Minutes before Trump left office, millions of the Pentagon’s dormant IP addresses sprang to life” was the title of a Washington Post article on Saturday. Literally three minutes before Joe Biden became president, a company called Global Resource Systems LLC “discreetly announced to the world’s computer networks a startling development: It now was managing a huge unused swath of the Internet that, for several decades, had been owned by the US military,” the Post said.
The number of Pentagon-owned IP addresses announced by the company rose to 56 million by late January and 175 million by April, making it the world’s largest announcer of IP addresses in the IPv4 global routing table.
Brett Goldstein, the DDS’s director, said in a statement that his unit had authorized a “pilot effort” publicizing the IP space owned by the Pentagon.
“This pilot will assess, evaluate, and prevent unauthorized use of DoD IP address space,” Goldstein said. “Additionally, this pilot may identify potential vulnerabilities.”
Goldstein described the project as one of the Defense Department’s “many efforts focused on continually improving our cyber posture and defense in response to advanced persistent threats. We are partnering throughout DoD to ensure potential vulnerabilities are mitigated.”
The Washington Post and Associated Press weren’t able to dig up many details about Global Resource Systems. “The company did not return phone calls or emails from The Associated Press. It has no web presence, though it has the domain grscorp.com,” an AP story yesterday said. “Its name doesn’t appear on the directory of its Plantation, Florida, domicile, and a receptionist drew a blank when an AP reporter asked for a company representative at the office earlier this month. She found its name on a tenant list and suggested trying email. Records show the company has not obtained a business license in Plantation.” The AP apparently wasn’t able to track down people associated with the company.
The AP said that the Pentagon “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.” Global Resource Systems’ name “is identical to that of a firm that independent Internet fraud researcher Ron Guilmette says was sending out email spam using the very same Internet routing identifier,” the AP continued. “It shut down more than a decade ago. All that differs is the type of company. This one’s a limited liability corporation. The other was a corporation. Both used the same street address in Plantation, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale.”
The AP did find out that the Defense Department still owns the IP addresses, saying that “a Defense Department spokesman, Russell Goemaere, told the AP on Saturday that none of the newly announced space has been sold.”
Madory’s conclusion was that the new statement from the Defense Department “answers some questions,” but “much remains a mystery.” It isn’t clear why the Defense Department didn’t simply announce the address space itself instead of using an obscure outside entity, and it’s unclear why the project came “to life in the final moments of the previous administration,” he wrote.
But something good might come out of it, Madory added: “We likely won’t get all of the answers anytime soon, but we can certainly hope that the DoD uses the threat intel gleaned from the large amounts of background traffic for the benefit of everyone. Maybe they could come to a NANOG conference and present about the troves of erroneous traffic being sent their way.”