Researchers find America's Internet resilient to terror attacks

Published 29 September 2006

Rich web of nodes and regional service providers make it hard to knock out Internet; even a succesful strike against multiple nodes not likely to succeed due to peering agreements; research at Georgia Tech looks into VoIP security with grants from BellSouth and Internet Security Systems

If al Qaeda terrorists wanted to disrupt our way of life, their best bet would be to destroy the Internet. Web surfing and email have become so embedded in Americans’ daily doings that one imagines wide-spread suicide among those unable to envision a rich fulfilling life without Web connectivity. Teenagers would overdose on their keyboard keys; businessmen would commit hari kari with sharpened Blackberrys. America would never be the same again.

The question remains: is it actually possible for terrorists to knock out enough of the Internet’s physical components to cripple the system? A new study published in the journal Environment and Planning B says no. Researchers, assuming that terrorist would target regional nodes or major service providers, developed a computer simulation of the nationwide Internet network which they then subjected to various failures and disruptions. They also assumed that not all the backbone providers in each network node would be disabled at once, and that peering agreements would allow at least some Internet traffic to continue flowing. The results were not surprising to anyone who understands the compexity and redundancy of Internet networks. “There is a rich web of connections in these Internet nodes, and a hit on a single city node or even several of them is not likely to wipe out Internet connectivity,” one of the participating researchers said. “That’s not to say major damage cannot be done, but it would be very difficult.”

Similar concerns spurred the recent creation of a partnership between the Georgia Tech Information Security Center (GTISC) , BellSouth (NYSE: BLS) and Internet Security Systems (NASDAQ: ISSX) to explore the security of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. Internet Security Systems and BellSouth will contribute a total of $300,000 for the project in exchange for any emerging intellectual property. According to Technology News Daily, “The researchers plan to conduct a security analysis of VoIP protocols and implementations and explore issues such as VoIP authentication for dealing with voice spam, modeling of VoIP traffic and device behavior, mobile phone security, and security of VoIP applications running on user agents.”

-read more about Internet security in this Technology News Daily report; read more about VoIP security in this news release; and see GTISC Web site