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APNIC warns members to watch out for fake election phone calls

The Register finds evidence of astroturfing in governance stoush

The Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC) – the regional internet registry for 56 nations in the region – has warned that members may be receiving fake phone calls from people purporting to be from the organization ahead of the election of members to the org's executive council.

A post by the APNIC Secretariat titled "Callers impersonating APNIC: Election scam warning" states that the group "is aware of reports of Members receiving unsolicited telephone calls ('cold calls') to encourage voting for certain candidates in the upcoming EC election, and the calls are reported to be from persons claiming to represent APNIC."

"These calls are NOT from APNIC. The APNIC Secretariat will never call Members to discuss EC election candidates," the post continues, before asking members to report any such approaches.

The thread in which the above post was made has notched up two replies, each alleging unsolicited calls advocating votes for different blocs of candidates. Another thread claims that one member has received unsolicited campaign email from Lu Heng – a candidate who has received an endorsement from a Morocco-based group called Number Resource Society (NRS) – and that the message included advertising for an IP address leasing service.

(Representatives of Lu Heng have denied he, in his personal capacity, ever sent any unsolicited emails to any party rallying for votes during the campaigning process.)

NRS is a Morocco-based organization that advocates for reform of internet registries "and opposing any bureaucratic practices that could hinder the stability of the internet." It has no obvious connection to APNIC.

The Register therefore contacted Lu Heng to ask if he knows why NRS chose to support his candidacy and those of others employed by Larus Limited – a company he serves as CEO and which bills itself as able to "Lease on-demand IP Addresses within 48 hours."

Lu said he believes NRS simply wishes to improve internet governance and to lend its support to his candidacy.

However The Register can reveal a previously unreported link between Larus and NRS: an October 27, 2021, Wayback Machine snapshot of the NRS's web page lists the organization’s address as "Flat A3, 11/F, TML Tower, Tsuen Wan, N.T, Hong Kong SAR."

Larus Limited's website currently lists its address as "A3, 11/F, TML Tower, Tsuen Wan, N.T, Hong Kong SAR."

The Register has asked Lu Heng to explain the shared address. We have also asked NRS for comment on its motivation for supporting candidates in the APNIC election, but have not received a response at the time of writing.

Lu Heng has also been identified as CEO of an entity called Cloud Innovation, which on its website states that it "partners with LARUS" to delegate IP addresses.

The African Network Information Centre (AFRINIC) and Cloud Innovation are contesting legal action.

Lu has also been criticized by the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), which has expressed concern about what it described as "misleading and inconsistent" behavior and of making "potentially false statements" to the organization.

Concern about the NRS-aligned slate of candidates for the APNIC election emerged earlier this week when, as The Register reported, veteran telecoms engineer Karl Kloppenborg sought to invoke mechanisms that allow APNIC to change its bylaws in the hope of altering eligibility for the council.

In conversation with The Register, Lu said his only interest in APNIC is to improve its governance and structure, and by doing so to ensure internet access for all.

He described all regional internet registries as an oddly centralized source of authority given the decentralized nature of the internet, and argued that they are effectively redundant and should therefore be reformed.

When The Register pointed Lu to the criticisms of his past actions mentioned above, he said they are false and motivated by self-interest of registry staff and officers.

Voting in APNIC's election commenced earlier this week, and closes on March 2. The Register is watching.

If you are, too, or have any insights into the matters discussed in this story, use this form to contact The Register. ®

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