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The Most Comprehensive Map of the Internet Yet May Give Clues for Sealing Up Vulnerabilities

Researchers are using ISP databases to connect the dots between networks in order to create a comprehensive map of the internet's global scope

Photo: violinha

The internet’s complexity has given rise to dedicated cartographers who try to map the cyber world in order to better understand its users, geography, behavior, and potential weak points. Mapping the internet, however, is no small task, the New Scientist writes:

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.

Sniffer software gets sidetracked by internet service providers and router shortcuts, the New Scientist writes, meaning this technique gives only a partial view of the internet’s true scope. Instead, Barford and his colleague Matthew Roughan are going old school, searching through ISP databases to find network information to stitch together manually. Eventually, they hope to connect the dots around the world.

Roughan’s Internet Topology Zoo is a growing collection of maps of individual networks. Barford’s Internet Atlas expands on this, adding crucial buildings and links between networks to flesh out the map. So far the Internet Atlas, perhaps the most comprehensive map of the physical internet, maps 10,000 such structures and 13,000 connections.

If they succeed, the two researchers think their Atlas will play an integral part in finding vulnerabilities—including the location of hubs of activity, servers and cables—and preventing them from ever becoming a problem. Banks, governments, businesses and nearly every other facet that keeps society up and running depends upon the internet. Understanding its potential weak points is an important step in protecting against cyber terrorism and natural disasters that could shut modern society down.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Robots Get Their Own Internet  
Have You Ever Wondered How the Internet Works? 

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