A quarter of the world's Internet users rely on infrastructure that is susceptible to attacks

A quarter of the world's Internet users live in nations that are more vulnerable to targeted assaults on their Internet infrastructure than previously anticipated. Many of the vulnerable countries are in the Global South.

This is the finding of a large-scale investigation undertaken by computer scientists at the University of California, San Diego. The researchers conducted surveys in 75 nations.

"We wanted to study the topology of the Internet to find weak links that, if compromised, would expose an entire nation's traffic," said the paper's first author, Alexander Gamero-Garrido, who got his Ph.D. in computer science at UC San Diego.

This spring, researchers presented their findings at the Passive and Active Measurement Conference 2022, which was held online.

The topology of the Internet can vary considerably around the globe. In many industrialized nations, such as the United States, a big number of Internet service providers compete to serve a large number of consumers. Direct peering occurs when these networks are directly connected to one another and exchange content. All of the providers can also connect directly to the global Internet infrastructure.

"But a large portion of the Internet doesn't function with peering agreements for network connectivity," Gamero-Garrido noted.

In other countries, many of which are still developing, most Internet users rely on a handful of providers, with one of these providers serving the vast majority of customers. Furthermore, those providers rely on a small number of organizations known as transit autonomous systems to access the global Internet and traffic from other nations. The researchers discovered that many of these transportation autonomous system suppliers are state-owned.

Of course, this renders countries with this form of Internet infrastructure highly vulnerable to assaults, because all that is required is to cripple a small number of transit autonomous systems. Of course, these nations are equally susceptible if a major Internet provider has disruptions.

In the worst-case scenario, a single autonomous transit system serves all customers. This is the situation in Cuba and Sierra Leone. In contrast, Bangladesh evolved from having only two system providers to having over 30 when the government opened up that sector of the economy to private industry.

This highlights the significance of government regulation in terms of the amount of Internet service providers and transit autonomous systems accessible in a nation. For example, researchers were astonished to discover that many underwater Internet cable companies are state-owned rather than commercially operated.

Researchers discovered colonial vestiges in the structure of the Internet in the Global South. Orange, for example, has a substantial presence in various African nations.

The researchers used data from the Border Gateway Protocol, which analyzes routing and reachability exchanges between autonomous devices on the Internet. They are aware that the data may be incomplete, resulting in possible mistakes, which are addressed by the study's methodology and confirmation with genuine, in-country Internet providers.

The next stage is to examine how vital institutions, such as hospitals, are connected to the Internet and how susceptible they are.
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