Global Internet governing body the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has tapped Rod Beckstrom, a former top-ranking U.S. government cybersecurity official, as its new president and chief executive officer as it grapples with rising incidences of cybersquatting and the pending expansion of Internet addresses.

At its 35th international meeting in Sydney, Australi, on June 26, ICANN announced the appointment of Beckstrom, who resigned from his post as director of the U.S. National Cybersecurity Center at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in March after about a year in the newly created role.

Beckstrom’s resignation letter cited inadequate funding and the center’s second-string role on cybersecurity initiatives behind the U.S. Department of Defense’s National Security Agency.

For much of his career, Beckstrom has been a high-technology entrepreneur and executive. He is also co-author of a best-selling book about the rise of decentralized organizations, The Starfish And the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations.

“The importance of the Internet as a free flowing source of information is being underscored right now by the events in Iran,” stated Beckstrom, in an announcement of his appointment. “It shows the power of human expression through a free and open Net.”

At a press conference in Sydney following his appointment, Beckstrom said he views himself as a catalyst for change in a system that his “healthy, but strained.”

“It is massively complex, you can’t run it top down,” Beckstrom said. “The beauty and power of this global peer-to-peer network is no one is in control so everyone is in control.”

Beckstrom also said that ICANN would face technology hurdles as it expands the Internet.

ICANN is working on plans to allow more country domain names such as .ca and .uk for Canada and the United Kindgom, and additional so-called generic top-level domain names like the 21 current extensions, which include .com and .biz.

“ICANN needs to not only deliver the international domain names, it has to make sure it doesn’t break anything that works,” he said.

At the press conference, ICANN board chairman Peter Dengate Thrush said that the organization hopes to make an announcement about fast-tracking some country-level domain names at its next international meeting slated for Seoul, South Korea, in October.

Beckstrom replaces Australian Paul Twomey, who has led ICANN since March 23 after stints running an Australian Internet consulting company and working for global consulting outfit McKinsey & Co.

Amid the leadership shift, ICANN is contending with a steady rise in cybersquatting cases — arbitration disputes over Internet domain names. Intellectual property lawyers also fear that cybersquatting will grow as the Internet’s real estate grows with new top-level domain names. 

Cybersquatting complaints filed by trademark holders at the World Intellectual Property Organization, one of the two main organizations that decide such cases, reached a record 2,329 last year. The increase is an 8% climb from 2007 filings and a 60% spike over 2005 filings.

The Minneapolis-based National Arbitration Forum, the other major dispute resolution body for cybersquatting cases, reported a 2% drop in 2008 case filings to 1,770 cases, but filings have climbed 29% since 2005.

Sheri Qualters can be contacted at