The Internet is down -- now what?

If the Internet goes down, will you be ready?

Crocker says the Business Roundtable report and similar critiques carry an "implied assumption" that individual companies can protect themselves. There is some truth to that, he says, because companies can, for example, get multiple copies of critical systems running in different locations, albeit at considerable expense.

But he says that the most important thing companies should do is to band together to improve the overall situation. A "first-class" CIO, Crocker says, should approach his CEO with this message: "Boss, we need to take care of ourselves, but we also need to organize into a powerful user group and bring some pressure on [vendors] so that the network is fundamentally safer tomorrow than it is today."

The little things count

Patrick Cain, chairman of a network security working group of the Internet Engineering Task Force, says he finds the possibility of a catastrophic Internet failure unlikely. He points out that a major earthquake in Japan in 2005 slowed traffic in and out of Japan but went largely undetected in the rest of the world. When hurricanes disrupt traffic along the East Coast of the U.S., traffic is seamlessly routed to the West Coast. And when a domain name server goes down, an alternate server picks up the traffic.

But, says Cain, co-founder of The Cooper Cain Group, it's natural for people planning for disasters to concentrate on the big, dramatic events, like the crash of an airliner into a data center. Meanwhile, lesser but more likely events are ignored. For example, he says, if an organization has some local problem that prevents access by the public to its Web site, that can create a public relations disaster.

"So if you are on the West Coast, maybe you should get a cheap Web host on the East Coast set up as a fail-over site," he says. "But very few companies do that."

Best practice Not practiced

In May 2000, in response to a "resurgence in denial-of-service attacks" against Internet targets, the Network Working Group of the Internet Engineering Task Force issued a request for comments (RFC), titled "Network Ingress Filtering: Defeating Denial-of-Service Attacks Which Employ IP Source Address Spoofing."

Behind the complicated title lay a simple idea. A lot of mischief on the Internet, including denial-of-service attacks that flood Web sites, rely on randomly changing forged source addresses. That is, the offending data packets do not contain the real "return address" of the computer that sent them. But through a simple process called network-ingress filtering, Internet service providers could check packets to ensure that they contain valid, legitimately reachable source addresses, says the RFC, which has since been named Best Current Practice 38 (www.armware.dk/RFC/bcp/bcp38.html).

"To what extent have the ISPs implemented that?" asks Steve Crocker, chairman of ICANN's Security and Stability Advisory Council. "The answer is, hardly at all. They said, 'It's expensive, and besides, no one is forcing it on us.' This is something that can and should be done to improve the overall security of the Internet, but it doesn't fit the model of how someone can make more money by selling a new product."

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