Work co-produced by professor Joel Sommers featured in Technology Review

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Even though the Internet is a critical tool for the U.S. economy, no one had ever mapped the cables that help the data flow. One problem is that the cables that power the Internet are owned by many different companies including AT&T and Level 3. Because the information is in many places, the system powering the Internet hasn’t been mapped – until now.

Working with a team of researchers, Joel Sommers, associate professor of computer science, changed that paradigm by creating a map of the cables. The work was featured in Technology Review Magazine, and the paper is available to read as a PDF file.

“Other researchers have tried to map the Internet,” says Sommers. “However, all of those attempts have tried to do it by taking traffic measurements or using other measurement tools to try to build a picture of the Internet from the top down.”

The problem with previous attempts is that they see a virtualized topology — not the real physical infrastructure.

Through painstaking work of putting together ISP maps then cross referencing against a massive set of public records, uncovered through lots and lots of manual work, the team was able to create one of the first maps of the Internet’s long-haul fiber-optic infrastructure in the United States.

Sommers explained that understanding the topology of the Internet can help protect it. There was a well-publicized case a few years back when a tunnel fire in Baltimore melted fiber-optic cables causing Internet outages. Having a picture of the Internet’s topology can help engineers understand the potential impact of such events on other portions of the network.

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