Scientists spot Achilles heel of the Internet : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Scientists spot Achilles heel of the Internet Updated 2:29 PM ET July 26, 2000 By Patricia Reaney LONDON (Reuters) - The complex structure of the Internet makes it resistant to errors or failure but is also its Achilles heel, scientists in the United States said Wednesday.

Because the system is so varied, if one or more nodes --- the crossroads through which Internet data travel -- go down, it has very little impact.

But researchers at Notre Dame University in Indiana, who have analyzed the connections within the Internet, have found that if the networks with the most highly connected nodes were attacked by cyber-terrorists it could fragment the Web into isolated parts.

"The Achilles heel (of the Internet) is that the structure has this double feature. Like Achilles it is very hard to kill it, but if you know something about the system then you could," Albert-Lazlo Barabasi, a structural physicist, said in a telephone interview.

An estimated 3 percent of nodes are down at an given time but no one notices because the system copes with it.

"The reason this is so is because there are a couple of very big nodes and all messages are going through them. But if someone maliciously takes down the biggest nodes you can harm the system in incredible ways. You can very easily destroy the function of the Internet," he added.


Barabasi, whose research is published in the science journal Nature, compared the structure of the Internet to the airline network of the United States.

The majority of airports are small but they are all connected to much larger hubs -- cities such as Chicago, Atlanta, New York and Los Angeles.

"That's exactly the situation on the Internet: there are a couple of hubs that are crucial to the system," he explained.

Those big hubs or nodes control the traffic in the system.

If the Internet hubs are taken out simultaneously, there would be a serious problem, but Barabasi said the probability of random errors hitting the big nodes was very small.

In a commentary on the research, Yuhai Tu of the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in New York said the research was a first step toward understanding the robustness of the Internet.

"The good news is that we do not have to worry about random fluctuations of these networks. The bad news is that Internet terrorists could cause great damage by targeting the most connected router," he said.

-- Martin Thompson (, July 26, 2000


This strongly strengthens the conclusory warnings about the high vulnerability of Information Technology to intentional disruption, that the U. S. Government summarizes at: . This website and sublinks (esp. "Mission" and "F.A.Q.") gives any "Y2K Bug" savvy person a STRONG case of "Deja Vu!" And it removes regrets about having prepared, and about being wrong (at least about the trigger event causing the feared disruptive effects.)

-- Robert Riggs (, July 27, 2000.

Study: Internet's structure vulnerable to organized attack Source: Associated Press Publication date: 2000-07-27

The Internet's reliance on a few key nodes makes it especially vulnerable to organized attacks by hackers and terrorists, according to a new study on the structure of the worldwide network. Like the airline hub system that falls apart when weather shuts down airports in Chicago or Dallas, the Internet could collapse if its major nodes were targeted in a malicious attack, the researchers said.

"If you take the big nodes out, you can harm the system very easily," said Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, a University of Notre Dame physicist and co-author of the study reported Thursday in the journal Nature.

Transmitted data such as an e-mail or Web page hop across the network from node to node until it reaches its destination. If a random router is broken, a new path around the problem is forged.

Researchers found that the system can handle random failures because the vast majority of nodes do not have many connections. But it's a different story if several of the most highly connected nodes are shut down, they said.

"If you go for the biggest nodes and take a couple of them out, you can break the system into clusters that don't communicate with each other," Barabasi said.

Such a massive cyber-assault has never occurred in the Internet's history, though it is an increasingly tempting target with the rapid growth of e-commerce and the increasing importance of the network for businesses, governments and the public.

The most highly connected nodes are called Network Access Points, where major Internet service providers exchange data. They are scattered around the world and generally are in highly secured facilities.

"What the study really does is put some rigor behind what the folks running the systems already know," said Jim Jones, director of technical operations for response services at Global Integrity Corp. in Reston, Va.

"While the overall system appears robust ... and routers can fail here and there without any noticeable impact, the reality is if someone decided they wanted to turn off the Internet and had the money, they probably could," he said.

Recent high-profile attacks have targeted individual Web sites such as Yahoo!, and Amazonattack that, at least in theory, could be far more crippling.

Barabasi and colleagues studied maps and ran tests on snapshots of the Internet to dissect exactly how its structure evolved over the years as local users randomly added routers and links to the system.

"Everybody had been thinking that the Internet is fundamentally a random network, that any two nodes are perfectly, randomly connected," Barabasi said.

But it turns out that the Internet more closely resembles what is known as a scale-free network, where most nodes have only one or two links but a few are much more highly connected.

According to the analysis, the average performance of the Internet would be reduced by a factor of two if only 1 percent of the most connected nodes are disabled. If 4 percent are shut down, the network would become fragmented and unusable.

The network maps obtained by the researchers did not name the most highly connected nodes on the Internet. And they did not test ttatives late Tuesday approved a bill by Congressman Elton Gallegly (R-Ventura County) to "congratulate the people of the United Mexican States on the success of their democratic elections held on July 2, 2000."

Gallegly is Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.

"While Mexico has, in fact, practiced democratic governance for the past several decades, the outcome of the July 2nd Presidential election, ending 71 years of dominance in the Office of the President by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, represents the most dramatic and historic change in leadership in modern Mexican history," Gallegly said during House debate on the bill.

"In addition, this election was deemed by both domestic and international monitors as the freest, fairest and most transparent election in Mexican history," Gallegly said.

The bill notes that President-elect Vicente Fox and current President Ernesto Zedillo have pledged themselves to a peaceful and cooperative transition of power. It also reaffirms the friendship between the United States and Mexico, and reaffirms the U.S.' "unequivocal commitment to encouraging democracy throughout Latin America." "This vote for (the resolution) not only recognizes Mexico's successful election, but also ushers in a new chapter of Mexican-U.S. relations, which I hope will further bind our nations through our shared aspirations for the future," Gallegly said. story_id=12364632&ID=cnniw&scategory=Business+and+Finance

-- Martin Thompson (, July 27, 2000.

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