The Internet’s Vulnerable Backbone

Some Internet security problems can be fixed. Vulnerabilities likeHeartbleed, for instance, may have massive reach and widespread impact, but they ultimately come down to a clear flaw that we can mend by rewriting code. It’s a long, slow, painful process—but we know what needs to be done.

That’s not always the case. A report presented last week by researchers at Dell SecureWorks on malicious redirection of Internet traffic in order to mine cryptocurrency raises the question of what we do about the security problems that arise not from Internet weaknesses but instead from Internet strengths—or rather, from the fundamental design of the Internet.

In their report, the researchers detail how, beginning in early February, someone managed to redirect the online activity of several bitcoin mining groups and steal the bitcoins that they mined during those periods, amounting to at least $83,000 worth of stolen cryptocurrency over the course of four months. That’s a pretty trivial sum in the grand scheme of cybercrime. What makes this incident important is not how much was stolen, but rather how it was stolen. The heist demonstrates how old ways of exploiting the Internet’s architecture continue to be recycled and reused for new purposes as the Internet itself takes on new functions.


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