Internet Collapse?
November 26, 2002 11:24 PM   Subscribe

Is the Internet in danger of collapse from a disaster or terrorist attack? The Internet was a product of DARPA and designed during the Cold War because it was thought that the centralized phone system networks providing most or all of the National Defense communications networks- used at that time would not survive a nuclear attack disabling our ability to communicate with our troops. At the suggestion of the RAND Corporation and a number of Scientists the design scheme was to make the Internet a system with no central control in order to make it difficult for an enemy to disable our countries ability to communicate during a War. Has the decentralized Internet now become a threat to our very Centralized Goverment that initially created it-and other Goverments? Why would terrorist organizations want to destroy something that they in fact use themselves? Or perhap the researchers are right that the emergence of large centralized hubs brought forth by the increased commercialization of the Net has in fact made the Internet more vulnerable to attack or disaster! Perhaps there are lessons in this story regarding the whole Centralization/ Decentralization dichotomy that Goverments, and Individuals can learn from?
posted by thedailygrowl (8 comments total)
The Register: Mock Cyberwar Fails to End Mock Civilization.

To sum up, the Naval War College's Craig Koerner pointed to the need for "synergies" in making the attacks interoperable, hence feasible. For example, the group would likely attack the Internet last to preserve it for other, continuing attacks. He pointed out that while local attacks are possible, it's virtually impossible to bring off any lasting, nationwide horror. The stereotypical scenario of a crew of hackers bringing down the national infrastructure is quite ludicrous, despite the apparently perjured testimony before numerous Congressional Committees of Michael Vatis, Louis Freeh, Richard Clarke, John Tritak, Ron Dick, Scott Charney, and Mudge.
posted by Danelope at 11:36 PM on November 26, 2002

All may be well but Saturdays DDOS attack really hurt.

"...bigger and more sophisticated than anything else it has previously seen...

Any ideas what kind of people are behind these increasingly effective attacks?

In other news, the spam explosion, apparently the latest mom and pop business, is making e-mail harder and harder to use. Terrorists may be the least of our problems.
posted by grahamwell at 3:46 AM on November 27, 2002

*sigh* It is a well-established myth that the internet was designed to survive a nuclear attack, but it just isn't true in the strict sense. Even though some of the designers had communications systems damaged in terrorist attacks in 1961, there's really nothing in any of the literature or personal statements to uphold this as a direct motivation. The original DARPANET was by no means a widespread military communications network, but a way of linking academic computing centers with military research interests, back-office functions that would have been quite useless in the event of an actual nuclear war.

In short, robustness was always part of the design philosophy; but in those days it probably had more to do with technical limitations of data communication using analog phone lines than anything else.
posted by dhartung at 5:23 AM on November 27, 2002

Yeah, I think that in terms of the cost of attacks we are more at risk from spam on a day-to-day basis, as it is eating huge quantities of bandwidth all the time. Even the most determined DDOS attack is limited in the time it can last.
posted by dg at 5:26 AM on November 27, 2002

Please don't post again until you learn to spell and capitalize properly.
posted by Holden at 6:33 AM on November 27, 2002

The cover of the Weekly World News had this very subject on it. According to the people who keep me updated on Bat Boy, terrorists plan to strike on January 11th.

No, I didn't buy it. But you try to not read those as you stand in line at the grocery store with nothing but bubblegum and impulse buy batteries and toothbrushes looking back at you.
posted by Kellydamnit at 6:38 AM on November 27, 2002

Please don't post again until you learn to spell and capitalize properly.

And, even more importantly, keep your posts short enough so they don't take up an entire screen. The link sentence was all you really needed.
posted by languagehat at 8:23 AM on November 27, 2002

thedailygrowl: Please do not use only news links in your posts. The topic you choose is very interesting, and there are a lot of materials on the net. I would have expected from you to go (and link) to authors web pages and try to find their work on the net.
[on preview: sorry to add to the critics, you chose your topic well, but the post could have been inproved, unlike this one]

The article gives the feeling the research is 100% their original work, which is not the case. One of the important papers in the field is that of Albert, Jeong and Barabasi in Nature (July 2000): "Error and attack tolerance of complex networks" [if you cannot access Nature, check this PDF version].

Please read the article if you want to understand what is so special about the topology of the internet, and how it is able to survive accidental failure of equipment or disorganized attacks (robustness). In the end, the article summarizes the most important issues:

"In summary, we find that scale-free networks display a surprisingly high degree of tolerance against random failures, a property not shared by their exponential counterparts. This robustness is probably the basis of the error tolerance of many complex systems, ranging from cells to distributed communication systems. It also explains why, despite frequent router problems, we rarely experience global network outages or, despite the temporary unavailability many web pages, our ability to surf and locate information on the web is unaffected. However, the error tolerance comes at the expense of attack survivability: the diameter of these networks increases rapidly and they break into many isolated fragments when the most connected nodes are targeted. Such decreased attack survivability is useful for drug design, but it is less encouraging for communication systems, such as the Internet or the WWW. Although it is generally thought that attacks on networks with distributed resource management are less successful, our results indicate otherwise. The topological weaknesses of the current communication networks, rooted in their inhomogeneous connectivity distribution, seriously reduce their attack survivability. This could be exploited by those seeking to damage these systems."

As you can see, the idea and the research is at least two "Internet years" old. However, the main claim of the BBC link is that the risk is higher now than was several years ago. I do not have access to Dr Grubesic's data (or article), but based on his previous paper "Backbone Topology, Access, and the Commercial Internet, 1997 - 2000", I tend to disagree with the measure (overall connectivity, gamma) he uses to quantify this risk. I hope he uses better methods in the new article.
posted by MzB at 9:44 AM on November 27, 2002

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