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One-Fourth Global Internet Users Vulnerable To Cyber-Attacks: Study

Monday, 30 May 2022, 04:30 Hrs

About a quarter of the world's Internet users live in countries that are more susceptible than previously thought to targeted attacks on their Internet infrastructure, find researchers.

The structure of the Internet can differ dramatically in different parts of the world.

According to computer scientists at the University of California San Diego, who surveyed 75 countries, 34 nations have transit ecosystems that render them particularly exposed, where a single autonomous system is privy to traffic destined to over 40 per cent of their IP addresses.

In many developed countries, like the US, a large number of Internet providers compete to provide services for a large number of users. These networks are directly connected to one another and exchange content, a process known as direct peering. All the providers can also plug directly into the world's Internet infrastructure.

"But a large portion of the Internet doesn't function with peering agreements for network connectivity," said Alexander Gamero-Garrido, from UC San Diego.

In other nations, many of them still developing countries, most users rely on a handful of providers for Internet access, and one of these providers serves an overwhelming majority of users. Not only that, but those providers rely on a limited number of companies called transit autonomous systems to get access to the global Internet and traffic from other countries. Researchers found that often these transit autonomous system providers are state owned.

This, of course, makes countries with this type of Internet infrastructure particularly vulnerable to attacks because all that is needed is to cripple a small number of transit autonomous systems. These countries, of course, are also vulnerable if a main Internet provider experiences outages.

In the worst-case scenario, one transit autonomous system serves all users. Cuba and Sierra Leone are close to this state of affairs. By contrast, Bangladesh went from only two to over 30 system providers, after the government opened that sector of the economy to private enterprise.

This underlines, the researchers noted, the importance of government regulation when it comes to the number of Internet providers and transit autonomous systems available in a country.

The team presented their findings at the Passive and Active Measurement Conference 2022 online.