Researchers knock part of the Internet offline

University software experiment went awry

A university experiment went awry and briefly shut down a small portion of the Internet late last week. The incident occurred Aug. 27 when researchers at Duke University and the Reseaux IP Europeen Network Coordination Centre began distributing experimental border gateway protocol data through RIPE NCC’s systems. The data caused servers across the planet to go offline within minutes, forcing the experiment to shut down quickly.

BGP is used to direct router traffic on the Internet. According to Computerworld, routers running Cisco’s Internetwork Operating System received the experimental data, which was much larger than standard BGP routing code, corrupted it and passed the altered information to other servers. The majority of the routers that received the data cut off their connections with the Cisco routers, causing about 1 percent of the Internet to become inaccessible.

Earl Zmijewski, a general manager with the Internet security firm Renesys, told Computerworld that more than 3,500 blocks of IP addresses became unstable the moment the experiment began. He said that the prefixes were located globally with more than 60 nations affected.

The Friday disruption lasted less than half an hour. Hours after the incident, Cisco released a security advisory stating: “An advertisement of an unrecognized but valid BGP attribute resulted in resetting of several BGP neighbors on 27 August 2010. This advertisement was not malicious but inadvertently triggered this vulnerability.” Cisco also said that it has repaired the bug in its IOS software that caused the incident.

Zimijewski said that while the problems were caused by Cisco’s software, the university team running the experiment should have been more careful. “The days of academics playing with a live network are kind of gone now," he said. "I think it would be foolhardy to try something like this in the future.… I’m amazed that this happened in the first place."

RIPE NCC posted a statement on its Web site noting that the experiment was intended to further understanding of specific aspects of Internet routing behavior. The group said that in the future, it will be stricter about how it runs such experiments and will give Internet operators advance warning.

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Reader comments

Sat, Sep 4, 2010 wv

to the armchair quarterbacks--the duke team had the balls to try a new /better solution--they found a glitch that the rich big boys didn't even think about---think back to bill gates--dropped out of college to persue a dream and look at him---as albert einstein said---[imagination is more important than knowledge...knowledge is limited but imagination encircles the world]-----possibly the do gooders should git off their lazy laurels a be a little more productive for society and less better than thou-----------mr. chambers of cisco fame, came from west virginia the hillbilly--- whodathunkit----------------from another hillbilly--------------

Fri, Sep 3, 2010 Jeffrey A. Williams Friscto Texas

RIPE and Duke should have known better to do this sort of testing research in the wild. A stand alone closed loop network simulation would have given/discovered for them the same or similar information. IOS has had the mentioned flaw/bug for some time only Cisco has for whatever reason decided not to provide a patch/fix for same. Seems that Cisco is beginning to follow the same problem resolution as MS has been doing for a number of years now. That's NOT a good thing.

Fri, Sep 3, 2010 Esteban Groznovski Tucson, AZ

My apoogies for the errors in spelling - the brain runs faster than the fingers. Add one more thank you to the SW development community for propagating programming/SW engineering techniques that were used back in the days when the fastest machine ran at 300 kHZ and the largest RAM memory unit was 64 K (64*1024, that is) and long term storage units with 1 MB of memroy weighed 2 or three tons simoply because they are buried behind the facade of object-oriented UML models embedded in one of the picture-based SW development tools!!!

Fri, Sep 3, 2010 Hank Alabama

It sounds like they uncovered a problem. They should be thanked for this, not condemned. They did this by sending a valid message. What if someone actually intentionally sent an invalid message? What if a valid message became invalid by simply getting a bad data bit? I agree that this is an issue to be resolved if we are all moving towards cloud computing.

Thu, Sep 2, 2010 California

I think the position that these folks should be prosecuted is horribly misplaced. Apparently they were sending valid messages that were mucked up by Cisco's routing software. If anybody who sends a valid message across the Internet is going to be subject to prosecution because somebody else's router software messes up we are all going to be in a world of hurt.

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