Biggest threat to Internet could be a massive virtual blackout

Biggest threat to Internet could be a massive virtual blackout
Biggest threat to Internet could be a massive virtual blackout 

By Andrew Noyes
National Journal's Technology Daily 
April 5, 2007

The most serious threat to the Internet infrastructure in the 21st 
century is a massive virtual blackout known as a "distributed denial of 
service attack," an outspoken board member for the group that 
administers Internet addresses said Thursday at a Hudson Institute 

This type of high-tech ambush, which occurs when multiple compromised 
systems flood the bandwidth or resources of a targeted server to make 
Web pages unavailable, could be devastating for global online 
communication, said Susan Crawford of the Internet Corporation for Names 
and Numbers.

The most significant attack in recent years came on Feb. 6, when six of 
13 root-zone servers were slammed by an army of "zombie computers," 
which were compromised by hackers, the Cardozo Law School professor said 
at the think tank event.

While the average Internet user's experience was not affected by the 
attack, the incident underscored the fact that there is no real 
oversight of those servers, whose components are backed up by other 
machines around the world, Crawford said.

Prevention of DDOS attacks will eventually mean "having fewer zombies 
out there," she said. "People are turning millions of PCs into 
weapons... and we don't have a lot of data about what is happening. 
Researchers are often operating in the dark," Crawford said.

The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team and its facilitator, the 
Homeland Security Department, are largely reactive in their approach. 
"From the outside, it looks as if [DHS] doesn't really know what it's 
doing," she said. "They're trying, but many of their efforts lack 
timeframes for completion."

DHS also suffers from a high turnover rate among senior officials, but 
the agency now has Greg Garcia as its cyber-security czar, who is 
attempting to address the problem, Crawford said. He was previously vice 
president at the Information Technology Association of America.

Garcia has talked about the need for legislation but Crawford said she 
is "not convinced" that a new U.S. law can offer a cure for denial of 
service attacks because congressional action "is too local for the 
networked age."

Crawford advocated turning more attention and money to focus on 
prospective global educational efforts. A new multi-stakeholder entity 
"with a new, friendly acronym" might be the best solution, she said.

"None of the existing institutions will work," Crawford said. ICANN 
cannot do the job because its power is contractually based and too 
narrow, and the recently launched Internet Governance Forum is "highly 
political" and "not necessarily the best forum for a technical 
discussion of best practices," she contended.

Crawford added that improvements in routing security, which is "how 
packets go from one place to another," are also needed. A hacker could 
inject phony paths into a routing algorithm in order to intercept 
packets or trigger a DDOS attack. The susceptibility for such an assault 
grows as the size of so-called "routing tables" increases to accommodate 
the next-generation Internet known as IPv6, she said.

(c) 2007 by National Journal Group Inc. All rights reserved.

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