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A quarter of world's Internet users vulnerable to infrastructure attack

A quarter of world's Internet users vulnerable to infrastructure attack
Countries shaded from light to dark blue with worst exposed to Internet infrastructure attacks in the darkest blue. Photo courtesy of University of California San Diego Jacob School of Engineering

May 26 (UPI) -- A quarter of the world's Internet users are more vulnerable to Internet infrastructure attacks than previously thought due to overreliance on too few providers, a new study found.

Developed countries, like the United States, rely on a large number of providers for Internet infrastructure by connecting networks to one another through a process called "direct peering," according to the study conducted by University of California San Diego computer scientists.

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"But a large portion of the Internet doesn't function with peering agreements for network connectivity," study author Alexander Gamero-Garrido, who earned his doctorate in computer science at the University of California San Diego, said in a statement.

Researchers surveyed 75 countries that rely on a limited number of companies called transit autonomous systems to access the global Internet for the 30-page study.

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"We wanted to study the topology of the Internet to find weak links that, if compromised, would expose an entire nation's traffic," Gamero-Garrido said.

Many developing countries rely on only a handful of providers.

"This, of course, makes countries with this type of Internet infrastructure particularly vulnerable to attacks because all that is needed is to cripple a small number of transit autonomous systems," a statement from the university's Jacobs School of Engineering said.

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Researchers noted that Cuba and Sierra Leone were close to the "worst case scenario" where "one transit autonomous system serves all users."

On the other hand, in Bangladesh, the number of Internet providers increased from two to more than 30 after the government allowed private enterprise to enter the sector, which researchers said highlights the importance of government regulation.

The computer scientists also found Internet users in the Global South were especially at-risk, and there were "traces of colonialism" in the Global South, such as French company Orange, which had a "strong presence in some African countries," according to the statement.

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The research team plans to analyze potential Internet vulnerabilities in critical facilities, such as hospitals, in the future.

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