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Internet Backbone Map Aims to Enhance Network Security

September 22, 2015 By Molly White in

Four years in the making on the part of a University of Wisconsin computer science professor Paul Barford and around a dozen colleagues, a map of the backbone of the Internet could be the key to enhancing the global information network’s resiliency, according to an MIT Technology Review report.

The Department of Homeland Security is making the map available to government, private and public researchers via the Predict (Protected Repository for the Defense of Infrastructure Against Cyber Threats project.

“Our intention is to help improve security by improving knowledge,” said Barford in a press release about the map. “I think the map highlights that there are probably many opportunities to make the network more robust.”

Pinpointing the exact location of the most important of the vast network of undersea and terrestrial cables that carry Internet data and communications around the world will be of help in better understanding, predicting, avoiding and preventing the wide variety of natural and human-caused disasters, including increasingly sophisticated cyber threats, Barford elaborated. LINK:

Moving forward along this vein, Barford is talking with telecom companies and other researchers about adding additional fiber links to the Internet’s network of cables that would be shared by all of them. Installing them at key points between major population centers could improve Internet resiliency substantially, he said.

Internet Backbone Map

Though accessible by the public worldwide, it’s the integration of networks of private companies that make up the vast bulk of Internet cabling and capacity. While companies provide some geographic data regarding their Internet cabling, it is typically piecemeal, incomplete and lacking in sufficient geographic detail, Barford pointed out.

It’s very likely that Internet infrastructure companies and governments have their own more detailed and comprehensive maps, but they don’t make them available to the public. Barford and fellow researchers spent four years piecing together their map by accessing the public records required as part of obtaining permits for laying cables on private and public lands.

Authored by Barford and co-researchers from Colgate University, the University of Wisconsin and the Niksun network security company, the resulting research paper and Internet cable maps were presented last month at the Sigcomm conference on computer networking research in London.

“A lot of discussions in Washington take place in a vacuum of empirical data,” commented Tim Maurer, head of research Washington, D.C.-based New America Foundation’s Cyber Security Initiative, in the press release. “I see this paper as part of a broader push to have more transparency around Internet policy issues that can inform a broader debate.”

Barford and Maurer also believe more exact and comprehensive maps of the Internet backbone can better inform the debate and help policy-makers craft better policies regarding Net Neutrality.