The Internet Engineering Task Force, a legendary volunteer organisation that has built most of the technology that makes the internet work, has selected its first woman for a key leadership position.

Leslie Daigle, a pioneer in search engines, directory and web services, is the new chair of the IETF's Internet Architecture Board. Daigle's appointment was officially announced on Wednesday night.

The IAB is a technical advisory group consisting of 13 internet experts who appoint the IETF chair and all of the IETF's area directors. The IAB also serves as a liaison to other standards-setting and policy-making bodies. But the IAB's chief role is to provide a big-picture perspective on the protocols and procedures used by the internet.

Daigle is the fifth chair of the IAB, which was formed in 1989 along with the IETF itself. Daigle replaces John Klensin, who helped design the internet's original file transfer and email systems back in the late 1960s.

Formerly the IAB's executive director, Daigle was the favoured candidate for the chair. She takes over a radically different IAB, which has five new members this year. Daigle's post will be up for renewal in a year.

"The important fact is not that she's a woman, but that she's a competent person, and we intend to put her to work," says Fred Baker, a member of the IAB and former chair of the IETF.

The appointment of Daigle, a Canadian, is also a sign of the increasing internationalisation of the internet engineering community. A year ago, Norwegian Harald Alvestrand was named IETF chair. This is the first time that both of the IETF's most powerful positions are held by non-Americans.

In other news, the IETF has two new area directors. Steve Bellovin, an AT&T researcher who first predicted the phenomenon of distributed DOS (denial-of-service) attacks, takes over as one of the Security Area directors. Alex Zinen, with startup Nexsi Systems, joins Bill Fenner, also of AT&T, as the two new Routing Area directors, positions that were unfilled for several months following the sudden death of one director and the unexpected resignation of another.