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article imageFirst physical map of the Internet produced

By Tim Sandle     May 9, 2017 in Technology
Despite the reach of the Internet and its growing complexity, no physical map of the Internet had been produced, until now. The outcome highlights the Internet-dependent nature of our world.
To understand the depth of the project it is important to appreciate what the Internet is. The Internet should not be thought of as synonymous with World Wide Web. The Internet is a physical entity, a massive network of networks made up of cables, servers and computers. The networking infrastructure connects millions of computers together globally. This creates a network in which any computer can communicate with any other computer.
The end-product is an Internet Atlas, which is the first detailed map of the Internet's structure worldwide. The map resembles, at first glance, a conventional map of a geographical territory; however the series of lines represent crucial pieces of the physical infrastructure of the Internet rather than geographical features or political boundaries. For most people these interactions are out-of-sight yet they are critical items of physical infrastructure ad without them the Internet as we understand it would not exist.
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The map has been developed by a team put together by Professor Paul Barford and Ramakrishnan Durairajan. The scale of the project reveals the complexity of the connected world, showing aspects like submarine cables buried beneath the ocean floor, which are necessary to allow continents to communicate with each other. On land, the map reveals how buildings packed with servers engage in communications traffic exchange with different service providers, across Internet exchange points.
To construct the map millions of data items were inputted. One complexity was the lack of data about where most of the Internet is. While the researchers received some information from Internet providers they had to resort to cumulating local permits in various countries for works like laying cables.
There’s a point to it which goes beyond a mere intellectual exercise. The Internet remains under threat from low-grade hackers to major terrorist groups. Beyond this the Internet is under threat from natural forces, such as freak weather or extreme weather, as with hurricanes. Add to this other accidental events such as problems with rail tracks; this matters because considerable stretches of cabling runs under the rail network in many countries, including the U.S.
The map has recently been presented to the RSA Conference in San Francisco, which is a major cyber security conference. Commenting on this, Ramakrishnan Durairajan explains: "The question of 'how does mapping contribute to security?' is one of our fundamental concerns” By taking the map to the conference, the issue of Internet security received wider appreciation and coverage. These issues are global and require world governments to work together since Internet security is something of shared risk. In all likelihood to damage to one area impacts upon more than one entity, be that a networking hub or even multiple countries.
With the static map of the Internet produced, the researchers want to turn it into something interactive, to show how the Internet is functioning and evolving in real-time.
More about Internet, Atlas, Map, World wide web
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