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Map of the internet could make it stronger

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Posted April 16, 2013
Join the dots (Image: Atlas at Wail/Open Street Map Contributors)

Join the dots (Image: Atlas at Wail/Open Street Map Contributors)

The most comprehensive maps yet of the the internet’s infrastructure could help shore it up against disasters and sabotage.

IN MANY ways the internet is like another country. It has its own communities, cultures and even currency. But its infrastructure – the fibre optic cables that span the globe, and the thousands of buildings housing servers and routers – passes through almost every nation.

Internet cartographers have tried for years to chart its extent in the physical world, in order to manage traffic and assess weaknesses. Such vulnerability was shown on 27 March, when three scuba divers were arrested for trying to cut an undersea cable off the coast of Egypt, where several critical cables come together in one of the internet’s “choke points“. And last year, superstorm Sandy’s impact on internet connectivity in New York rippled all the way to Chile, Sweden and India.

Previous attempts to map the internet have been from within, using “sniffer” software to report the IP addresses of devices visited along a particular route, which, in theory, can then be translated into geographical locations. But this approach doesn’t work, says Paul Barford at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “After 15 years nobody can show you a map of the internet,” he says.

Such software is often inadvertently blocked by internet service providers (ISPs). Routers also try to find the shortest route between points, so sniffers end up mapping the internet’s major highways, but few of the back roads. “It leaves a very large part of the internet effectively invisible,” says Matthew Roughan at the University of Adelaide in South Australia.

Read more at: NewScientist.com

 

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