How Resilient is the Internet?
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On February 12, hackers hit the Internet with what they probably hoped would be an early Valentine's Day massacre. They went after three of the root servers with a distributed denial of service attack. For the average user, the attack had no discernible affect. We shouldn't get complacent, however.
One million zombie computers participated in the attack, which hit the root servers operated by the U.S. Department of Defense, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and the Widely Integrated Distributed Environment project. Many of the zombies were reportedly located in South Korea, a country with a high percentage of broadband users. The servers slowed down, but never went down entirely.
The last major attack against the root servers happened in February of 2002, when all 13 servers were targeted, and nine of them weakened. That attack also did not have much of an impact, though it did open some eyes to the possible hazards of loss of the Internet. It led to some root server operators increasing the redundancy in the network by copying information to multiple computers around the world.
Scott Perry, founder of a company that provides DNS tools to IT professionals, explains how resilient the system is now: "While there are 13 root servers, these servers are mirrored so that over 100 servers handle the queries that go to the root server. Each of the root servers has one IP address, but in some cases those IP addresses are Anycast [the information copying technique] to as many as 40 different computers. Because of that, when an attack like this occurs...it will only affect users near one location."
This does not mean we can rest on our laurels. The root servers that were affected were not the DNS servers that handle such domains as .com or .net. A successful attack against those DNS servers could have a much greater impact. Ken Silva, chief security officer for VeriSign, the company that operates two root servers as well as the .com and .net registries, notes that "The .com servers handle 450,000 queries per second. If they don't work, that's 450,000 queries per second that fail to connect."
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