A Quarter of Internet Users Use Infrastructure Vulnerable to Attack

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Internet networks are not all equal in the world. One could thus summarize the conclusion reached by a team made up of researchers from several American universities. They have indeed investigated the vulnerability of the infrastructures on which Internet access is based depending on the country, and have even drawn up a map.

We wanted to study the topology of the internet to find weak links that, if compromised, would expose an entire nation’s traffic “Summarizes Alexander Gamero-Garrido, lead author of the study. A team of computer scientists has therefore embarked on a global study on the subject. Their conclusions are not the most reassuring if we are to believe one of the key results: a quarter of global Internet users live in countries that are particularly vulnerable to attacks on their Internet infrastructure. The researchers presented their findings at the Passive and active measurement conferencein the spring of 2022.

Fraction of each country’s IP addresses that are exposed to selective observation or tampering by companies that connect Internet service providers to the global Internet. Countries are shaded in progressive shades of blue, countries with less exposure in the darkest blue. Shaded countries are excluded from the study. © Alexander Gamero-Garrido et al.

More specifically, scientists say that 34 nations are particularly vulnerable to potential attacks or espionage attempts. Overall, we can observe on the cartography that it is mainly about countries located in the south of the globe, called “in the process of development”.

If the disparities are so flagrant between the countries, it is because they are based on fundamental differences in functioning at the level of Internet access structures. Computer scientists thus explain that there are two models. According to them, the countries least likely to be exposed to very global attacks are those which operate according to a system known as “direct peering”. They give the example of the United States of America for this system. There is strong competition between Internet service providers. All these different networks are interconnected and exchange content (this is called direct peering). They are also directly connected to global Internet infrastructures.

Much of the Internet does not work with peering agreements for network connectivity “Says, however, Alexander Gamero-Garrido. In other parts of the world, Internet users can only rely on a small number of access providers. Often, in this configuration, one of these suppliers largely dominates. In some cases, it is owned by the state itself. The researchers also note that these access providers themselves rely on a limited number of companies, called “transit autonomous systems”, to access the global Internet infrastructure and traffic from other countries. This system is more vulnerable to potential attacks, simply because it suffices to target a very small number of these autonomous transit systems to disrupt Internet access in the country on a massive scale. If an access provider breaks down, this also has an even greater impact because there are few of them.

Cuba, a textbook case of network vulnerability

Moreover, these famous “transit systems”, underline the computer scientists, are often inaccessible, even unknown to the general public. If an alteration, be it an attack, data recovery, espionage, is suffered at this level, it will not necessarily be immediately identified as such by the public. We could therefore say that it is a discreet “gateway” to gain control over data or citizen access.

The researchers have created an indicator to quantify this vulnerability, the potential influence that Internet networks may suffer depending on the country. They called it CTI, for Country level transit influence. Textbook cases of vulnerability would be, according to them, Cuba, or Sierra Leone, where everything is more or less based on a single autonomous transit system.

The study this time focused on countries operating with these autonomous systems, but the researchers intend to continue their momentum to focus soon on the vulnerability of critical infrastructures such as hospitals. They also noted in passing that the traces of colonialism were reflected in the global organization of access providers. Thus, it should be noted that Orange is a key access provider in certain African countries…

Source : UC San Diego

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A Quarter of Internet Users Use Infrastructure Vulnerable to Attack


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