29 May 2013


An anonymous researcher has published a research paper in which he produced the most thorough and detailed map to date of Internet usage.  According to Motherboard"Not only does it show where people are logging in, it also shows changes in traffic patterns over time with an impressive amount of precision.  This is possible, of course, because the researcher hacked into nearly half a million computers so that he could ping each one, charting the resulting paths in order to make a complex and detailed map.  Along those line, the project has as much to do with hacking as it does with mapping.

" .... However, these were not sophisticated attacks.  The researcher explains in his paper that his so-called 'Carna Botnet' (named after the Roman goddess of physical health) targeted only essentially unprotected computers ~ that is, devices that required only an 'admin' log-in and a blank password field, or no log-in at all ~ that he set his code to run at lowest possible priority in the infected device to avoid interference, and also left a note behind explaining to the computers' owners that he'd used their computers for this research.  He even left them an email address in case they had any questions about the project.

" .... The resulting map isn't perfect, but it is beautiful.  Based on the parameters of the researcher's study, the map is already on its way to becoming obsolete, since it shows only devices with IPv4 addresses.  (The latest standard is IPv6, but IPv4 is still pretty common.)  The map is further limited to Linux-based computers with a certain amount of processing power.  And finally, because of the parameters of the hack, it shows some bias toward naive uses who don't put passwords on their computers.

" .... The research [intentionally] serves as another much-needed warning about Internet security.  'A lot of devices and services we have seen during our research should never be connected to the public Internet at all.  As a rule of thumb, if you believe that 'nobody would connect that to the Internet, really nobody', there are at least 1000 people who did,' says the report.  'Whenever you think 'that shouldn't be on the Internet but will probably be found a few times', it's there a few hundred thousand times.  Like half a million printers, or a million webcams, or devices that have 'root' as a root password." 

The image above (click to enlarge) is a static map of the research botnet, with concentrations of its 420,000 nodes represented by different colors.  Note that the greatest numbers of unprotected computers are (a) in China and India, and (b) in large cities around the globe.  Africa has the fewest numbers of computers of any kind.

You can also view an animation showing the rise and fall of computer usage as daylight sweeps around the world ~ here.  The image is high-resolution, and with so many data points, it may take a few moments to load.

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