Vast Internet Failure Simulator Created With U.K. Government

  • Model will allow security researchers to find vulnerabilities
  • Improbable building virtual worlds for gamers, urban planners

A U.K. startup has teamed up with the British government to create what it believes is the most complete simulation ever of how the Internet works, and plans to make the code available to researchers.

The model is intended to be used to find weak points in the Internet’s infrastructure and to simulate the effects of a large-scale network failures, U.K. company Improbable announced Thursday.

A simulation by Improbable, shows how the Internet works.

Source: Improbable

“This will enable businesses, institutions and even countries to become more resilient in an age of exponential vulnerability online,” Improbable said in a blog post.

A number of large-scale Internet disruptions have occurred with unpredictable and far-reaching consequences in recent years. In 2008, an Internet service provider in Pakistan accidentally cut off access to YouTube for a large portion the world by misconfiguring a single server. That same year, two critical underwater fiber-optic cables in the Mediterranean Sea were damaged, causing serious network outages for users in Egypt, India as well as parts of the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. In 2013, one of the largest distributed denial of service attacks in history targeted the non-profit company Spamhaus, making Internet access slow or impossible for millions of ordinary people in the process.

“A simulation like this could be used to investigate these kinds of failures and find the routes most likely to be affected,” Improbable said. “Perhaps there are a few key routes we could protect that would mitigate the effects of such failures.”

Improbable, which was founded in 2012 and is backed by $20 million in funding from Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, makes software that enables computer developers to create vast virtual worlds with an almost infinite number of variables. Its customers include computer gaming companies, financial services firms, governments and academic researchers.

British Government

A U.K. government team -- Improbable declined to say which department or agency they represented -- used Improbable’s SpatialOS software to construct a one-to-one scale model of the Internet’s entire backbone infrastructure.

Improbable said it took two programmers three days to build the entire simulation.

Herman Narula

Photographer: Kai-Uwe Waerner/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Photo

The model includes all major nodes, known as Autonomous Systems (AS), owned by all the Internet Service Providers and major computing companies in the world. With over 60,000 AS networks and more than half a million different routes between them, managing all the possible ways of routing traffic has become an ever bigger problem for Internet Service Providers.

Improbable’s system is able to mimic the operation of every AS simultaneously and independently. Previously more in the realm of supercomputers, Improbable distributes the workload across a public cloud computing platform. “Doing this sort of simulation on a single server would be almost impossible, but using our operating system we were able to distribute this simulation over as many machines as we need to reach the full scale,” Improbable said.

Simulated Cities

In addition to the British government, Improbable’s other customers include Bossa Studios, a London computer game creator that has used SpatialOS to create Worlds Adrift, a so-called massively multi-player online role-playing game -- in which thousands of players can interact simultaneously in a virtual world -- that it will release later this year. Immense Simulations, which is building software to help manage fleets of driverless cars, is also using Improbable’s SpatialOS to test its ability to route driverless cars efficiently in a simulated city -- including other vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists -- under changing traffic and weather conditions.

“Before you couldn’t recreate a whole city,” Improbable co-founder Herman Narula said in an interview with Bloomberg on Wednesday. “You would have to model hundreds of millions of interconnected entities and that was too computationally difficult.” Improbable uses cloud-computing to break this work up among lots of different machines -- and its software enables these machines to coordinate even without a central point of control.

Narula and Improbable’s other co-founder, Rob Whitehead, met when they were studying computer science at the University of Cambridge. The company now employs 90 people in its offices in London.

Video Source: YouTube/Improbable

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