How Vulnerable Is The Web, Really?

When was the last time you asked yourself about the vulnerability of the internet? Chances are that you may never have. When we think of computer security, we are probably more likely to consider the state of our hard drives or rethink our storage strategy. The internet will always be there for us to access, so why worry?

Some are saying that there is much more cause for worry than internet users may have initially suspected. And these aren’t your everyday internet user. In fact, they are over 800 of 1,300 scholars, tech leaders and analysts who were recently surveyed by the Pew Interne t& American Life Project. And they all believe that there is very likely to be a major attack on the internet within the next decade.

Is The Internet Secure?

Those 800+ surveyed experts say no. And not only that, but they named the areas which they feel are most vulnerable. They are individual switch and router elements, DNS root servers, end point and host operating systems and peering points for Border Gateway Protocol.

The Problem with Routers

It’s true that routers usually get patched quickly in light of bug discovery, and that’s a good thing. But experts agree that more needs to be done when the first version of software is released, as these are the versions which tend to be most fraught with bugs.

The DNS of The Issue

There are 13 DNS root servers currently in existence. Their job is to resolve internet names and addresses. Should they all be knocked out, no site on the internet would be accessible. However, following the unprecedented denial-of-service attacks which occurred in 2002, the system was strengthened to such a point that a complete shutdown of the DNS system is highly unlikely.

Operating System Snafus

According to experts, host operating systems could be more secure if ISPs and vendors worked together. Currently, vulnerabilities in operating systems are used as attack vehicles for hackers. Thankfully, there are now patches being released on a regular basis for the top vulnerabilities. And work continues by major companies to stay one step ahead of hackers.

BGP Beefs

Border Gateway Protocol is what communicates routing information between internet networks. And its susceptibility to IP spoofing is what worries many experts. To the layperson, the vulnerabilities in BGP mean that users have to worry about the security of those people they’re connected to as well as their own security.

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Just 19 Clicks Connect Us

A recently-published study sheds more light on the impact of an internet shutdown, should it ever occur. The study, by a Hungarian physicist revealed that each page on the internet is only 19 clicks away from the next. It also revealed that there are large ‘nodes’ of connection, which are search engines, indexes and news sites. Should those hubs be attacked, much of the web would be rendered inaccessible.

Facebook Facts and Lessons

Facebook conducted a study in 2011 which found that, of its 800 million users at the time, almost one hundred percent were connected to all other users by just 5 users.

And the social media giant experienced just how easily millions could be affected by an outage early in 2013, when visitors looking for weather information at popular sites were redirected to the Facebook site and received an error message.

The sites affected in this particular outage were very well-known and included media outlets like CNN and the Washington Post. Although Facebook itself provided little clue as to the cause for the outage, further investigation by experts revealed that the cause may have been the social media site’s user tracking system. This system is what allows users to log in at a site with their Facebook details. At the end of it all, the outage lasted about one hour and affected millions of users.

When you consider just how many millions – or perhaps even billions – of people are now doing business online via the internet, an outage can be put into the same cringe-worthy category as a hard drive reformat. Everyone knows that it’s a possibility, but no one wants to think about it. The problem with this is that it can mean much more damage done at the end of the day should a widespread internet outage occur.

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