Scientists have developed the first global Internet Atlas — including a detailed map of the internet's physical structure in India — an advance that could help guard the infrastucture from terrorism or extreme weather events.
Despite the internet-dependent nature of our world, a thorough understanding of the internet's physical makeup has only recently emerged through Internet Atlas developed by researchers from University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US and their collaborators.
"Internet is in a constant state of flux and mapping is really important to understand the evolution of the Internet," Ramakrishnan Durairajan, a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said.
"No single service provider can offer an authoritative perspective on the structure of the Internet," Durairajan said.
While average users rarely think of these elements, things like submarine cables - buried below the ocean floor — run between continents to enable communication.
Data centres in buildings all over the world are packed with servers storing many types of data. Traffic exchange occurs between different service providers at internet exchange points.
Though these and other elements may be out of sight for the average user, they are crucial pieces of the physical infrastructure that billions of people rely on.
"We have over 1,200 maps worldwide including India. All the data are connected using web search," said Durairajan.
"From maps that we have in our repository I'd say we have fibre running across almost all the states in India. However, connectivity could be improved in the north-western and north-eastern regions," he added.
Mapping the physical internet helps stakeholders boost performance and guard against a number of threats, from terrorism to extreme weather events like hurricanes.
"A lot of infrastructure is by major right-of-ways, like railroad lines," said Paul Barford, Professor of Computer Sciences at University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US, meaning that an event like a train derailment could end up disrupting internet communications.
"The question of 'how does mapping contribute to security?' is one of our fundamental concerns," said Ramakrishnan Durairajan, PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The project has helped direct attention to the problem of shared risk. Physical infrastructure is commonly shared by multiple networking entities, so damage to any particular piece of infrastructure can impact more than one entity.
"There is a lot of infrastructure sharing happening in the Internet today," said Durairajan. "Many service providers do this to save deployment costs by signing leases with other service providers."
"This infrastructure sharing leads to a problem called 'shared risk': physical conduits shared by many service providers are at an inherently risky situation since damage to those conduits will affect many several providers," he said.
Much of the data used to create the Internet Atlas comes from publicly available information, such as what internet service providers publish on their websites.
Other data has taken more legwork to uncover, such as combing through mundane items like local permits for laying cables, researchers said.
The team is looking to enhance the maps even further and share their work so it can be deployed by others to boost network performance and security. — PTI
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