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Communications of the ACM

ACM Opinion

Just How Fragile Is the Internet?


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Credit: SkunkPost.com

In 1998, a hacker told Congress that he could bring down the Internet in 30 minutes by exploiting a certain flaw that sometimes caused online outages by misdirecting data. In 2003, the Bush administration concluded that fixing this flaw was in the nation's "vital interest."

Fast forward to 2010, and very little has happened to improve the situation. The flaw still causes outages every year. Although most of the outages are innocent and fixed quickly, the problem still could be exploited by a hacker to spy on data traffic or take down websites. Meanwhile, our reliance on the Internet has only increased. The next outage, accidental or malicious, could disrupt businesses, the government or anyone who needs the Internet to run normally.

The outages are caused by the somewhat haphazard way that traffic is passed between companies that carry Internet data. The outages are called "hijackings," even though most of them are not caused by criminals bent on destruction. Instead the outages are a problem borne out of the open nature of the Internet, a quality that also has stimulated the Net's dazzling growth.

From The Associated Press
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