Three Root Servers Knocked Out By Attacks; Internet Keeps On Ticking

from the is-that-all-you've-got? dept

There's been some fear in the past about the fact that a key part of keeping the internet running, the core "root servers," are somewhat vulnerable. There are only 13 root servers, and taking them all out would cause quite a problem. So far, though, attacks have been unable to do so. Nearly five years ago, all 13 were attacked, taking out seven or eight of them for a period of time -- though the others picked up the slack and there were no noticeable problems. The latest story is that some sort of attack from hackers took down three of the servers, the biggest attack since the ones in 2002. Some of the attacks went on as long as 12 hours. Again, there was no noticeable impact for most users. However, the question is being raised again about whether using just 13 root servers is really safe. A few years back, there was a suggestion that it might be a lot safer to set up some sort of peer-to-peer system to better distribute the root servers among many more machines. It doesn't seem like that idea got much traction (and it certainly has its downsides as well), but it will be interesting to see if the latest attacks get people discussing this question once again, and whether or not they have any creative solutions.
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  1. identicon
    Dosquatch, 7 Feb 2007 @ 5:55am

    Re: Buzz and Anonynoob

    I never knew about these supposed 13 servers. I never knew that the Internet had such a focused core.

    and...

    Core servers? I just assumed that the internet was made up of interconnected servers (one for each domain).

    The words "Client" and "Server" are more like concepts than physical machines. A "client" requests information or services from another machine called a "Server". A "Server" provides that information or service. Any device connected to the internet can be either, and quite often both. "Peer to Peer" or "P2P" is a situation where a machine is both client and server for the same type of service or information.

    That said, there are millions of servers on the internet. There are thousands alone that respond to the address http://www.google.com/, for instance (making multiple machines answer a single name is called clustering - this will be important later). The servers spoken of here, though, are a special type of server providing a special type of information - Domain Name Resolution.

    Computers think in numbers. Each device on the internet has an IP address, often expressed as 4 3-digit numbers seperated by periods (255.255.255.255). This represents a 32-bit number providing a little over 4 billion possible addresses. Your computer finds another computer - like TechDirt or Google - by its numerical address.

    Domain Name Resolution is sort of like the phone book your computer uses to find the numerical address it should go to when you ask for Google.

    Let's look at how to read a domain name. Every period indicates a new heirarchial level and a new Zone of Authority. Reading the domain name from right to left takes you from the trunk all the way out to your destination. "www.google.com" is in the top-level domain (or TLD) "com", in which is the domain "google", in which is a machine called "www".

    The objective for DNS is to find the authoritative name server for your request. Your web browser sends the request to your ISP's name servers, which send the request up the tree until they find a server that can say with authority where Google's nameservers are. NOT where Google's machine "www" is, but where its nameservers are.

    The machines that do this are the TLD name servers, or the root name servers, of which there are 13 clusters, each with hundreds of machines.

    If you take out these root servers, you have taken out the top level of authority that directs you to Google's nameservers. Google's machines will probably still be running, but if you can't find them that doesn't do you a lot of good. The attack was essentially aimed at the trunk of a heirarchial tree. Like any tree, if you do enough damage to the trunk, the whole thing falls over.

    This does not make the internet stop working. It will probably make it nearly unusable for common end users, but all of those numeric addresses I talked about before? They're still there, and they are what really make things talk to each other. If you happen to know Google's IP address, then you can still use Google, for instance.

    So, yeah - that should give you a better idea of what's going on. Keep in mind that I've glossed over some points, ignored others, and possibly blantantly misrepresented one or two, but essentially this is what's going on.


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