Web's Achilles' Heel Could be Targeted By Attacks

by By David Bradley

July 25, 2000— Cyberterrorists could exploit a feature of the Internet that normally keeps it up and running to bring the entire system to a grinding halt, according to a report in this weekis Nature.p. According to Albert-Laszlo Barabasi of Notre Dame University in Indiana, the Internet and the World-Wide Web are highly susceptible to planned, intelligent attacks.p. He has analyzed maps of the connections between sections of the Internet, and found that even if several small sections or links stop working, most people wouldn’t notice the effect because the rest of the system wouldre-route that information.p. “The current Internet structure is not a result of a central design, but rather emerged as a result of numerous, independent steps of linking computers to it without a central authority watching over,” said Barabasi.p. Barabasi’s analysis reveals the Internet and the Web to be “scale-free structures” where most of the connections, or “nodes,” are linked only to one or two others. However,there are a few critical nodes with a much larger number of links.p. According to Yuhai Tu of IBM in New York, “Thescale-free structure is the Internet’s Achillesi heel under hostile attack. The most effective way of destroying network is to attack its most connected nodes.”p. Tu added that the average performance of the Interne falls by a factor of two if just one in a hundred of the most connected nodes are destroyed; and with only 4 percent of them destroyed, the Internet breaks down into small disconnected areas.p. Cyber-terrorists armed with a map of the Internet could deliberately focus their attack on these critical nodes. Ifthey could crash just a few there would be no alternat links, so no emergency routes for the data to take. The result would be net breakdown.p. Knowing about the net’s Achilles’ heel means network experts could come up with a design for rerouting or reconnecting systems where a handful of nodes might be attacked, in order to produce a robust Internet secure from cyberattack.p. Thursday, July 27, 2000

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