Project eyes global early warning system for the Internet

The National Communications System (NCS) and its private-sector telecommunications partners have developed infrastructure simulation models that make use of proprietary data from industry to identify single points of failure in the nation's telecom infrastructures.

"We've gotten to the point where we could turn that into an exercise designed to build more robustness into the network and increase our ability to reconstitute a network that has gone down," said Brenton Greene, deputy manager of NCS.

NCS is also working to mimic their success in modeling telecom outages in their attempts to safeguard the Internet.

"We've got a project going on now where we have taken a number of sophisticated 'health-of-the-Internet' tools, and we're working to integrate those into a global early warning capability," Greene said. "It is very fascinating work. We are trying to see how effectively we could see events like a denial-of-service attack emerging out of southwest Asia or somewhere in Africa. We want to be able to see it coming and mitigate damages and alert others." A denial-of-service attack occurs when a hacker interrupts a service by overloading a system.

Some of the tools are very promising, but the Internet modeling project is in its earliest stages of development, Greene said.

NCS started the project about nine months ago with various Internet infrastructure and security companies, such as VeriSign Inc., Lumeta Corp. and Akamai Technologies Inc.

Developing what Greene calls more synoptic views of networks is not just a technical challenge. NCS officials have to walk a fine line when asking carriers and others to give them sensitive data about their networks, including details on security breaches.

Safeguarding the nation's backbone networks is a major undertaking that requires advanced modeling of the connections among multiple carriers. But simulating events among industries is far more difficult, Greene said.

"It's astoundingly complex," he said. "You can't take a simple model and apply it to massively complex relationships. While it is challenging, this modeling is advancing in a very promising way. However, I would not call it a mature capability by any means."

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