On today's internet, the hacker attacks that recently shut down sites like Yahoo! and Amazon.com are virtually impossible to stop or trace back to the source. But help may be on the way. At North Carolina State University, computer scientist S. Felix Wu has been building software that creates virtual "tunnels" to connect Internet Service Providers and e-commerce sites. Using new standards from the Internet Engineering Task Force, Wu's program can authenticate each digital packet in a message as it enters a tunnel.
When an attack does occur, at least some of the offending packets will inevitably arrive via a tunnel. "Each one will give information about where the attack is coming from," explains Wu. That will make it easier to trace the source of attacks. The software can also close tunnel entrances to packets from known offenders. In effect, says Wu, the software can divide cyberspace into a good Internet and a bad Internet.
Monitoring the traffic moving through the tunnels would require additional processing. But Wu imagines that e-business companies will eagerly pay a little extra to get Net links that are practically invulnerable, at least between trading partners. He says the software, developed over the past two years with Defense Dept. funding, may be available commercially in about three months.