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What some users thought was their imagination turns out to be a very real problem

Sometimes you try to reach a site and mysteriously you can't get to it.  Perhaps you think its simply your imagination, something wrong with your computer, or perhaps the site is under attack.  Or maybe the server that the site is hosted on went down.  

However, the cause could be far more mysterious.   With the massive amount of users trafficing the internet today, weird things are bound to happen, but about the strangest perhaps is the recently discovered, but long suspected phenomena of internet "black holes."  Traffic is unintentionally routed into these holes at times, forever lost, even though a working path existed between the sending computer and receiving computer.

University of Washington researchers developed a system known as Hubble, which scours the dark depths of the internet for black holes, posting the results on the website.  The result is an ever-shifting map of the internet's weak spots.  Users can view a specific map or type in a specific web address to type for problems.

The University will present its research at the San Francisco at the Usenix Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation. 
Ethan Katz-Bassett, a UW doctoral student in computer science and engineering, explains how the research debunks the common misconception that if both the sender are receiver are active, the internet "just works."  Says Katz-Bassett, "There's an assumption that if you have a working Internet connection then you have access to the entire Internet.  We found that's not the case."

The scientists named the project after its NASA telescope namesake as they saw its search and mapping through mazes of cables and routers as analogous to the Hubble telescope's search of the the murky cosmic depths.  The practice of finding analogies between cosmology and internet research is actually quite common, in fact study of the internet is oft labeled as
"Internet astronomy".  Explains Katz-Bassett, "It's the idea of peering into the depths of something and trying to figure out what's going on, without having direct access."

The UW researchers extensively probe around the internet to find computers that are reachable by some parts of the internet, but not others, a phenomena known as partial reachability.  To rule out short blips, a error must be present in two consecutive 15 minutes trials.  Hubble found that nearly 7 percent of the world's computers experienced such a problem at least once in a three week period last fall. 
Arvind Krishnamurthy, a UW research assistant professor of computer science and engineering and Katz-Bassett's doctoral adviser states, "When we started this project, we really didn't expect to find so many problems.  We were very surprised by the results we got."

The new online map produced by Katz-Bassett and
Krishnamurthy is updated every 15 minutes.  Problems are flagged and the numerical address of the group of computers effected is listed.  An address can describe a few hundred to a few thousand effected computers.  For the affected addresses Hubble listed the successful percentage of probes and how long the problem persisted.  By clicking a flag, the user gains access to a list of which locations could or could not reach the address.

The researchers hope to in the future also include information on what caused the black hole.  Hubble utilizes the
PlanetLab network.  PlanetLab is a shared worldwide network of academic, industrial and government computers.  Hubble uses about 100 computers in 40 countries to accomplish its global probing.  Hubble currently monitors 90 percent of the internet, according to researchers. 

The new site should be helpful both to inquisitive users, wondering at the cause of their frustrations, and for network administrators.  Typically administrators currently try to determine the nature of such problems through online discussion boards, a rather poor means of diagnosis. 
Katz-Bassett states, "You would think that the network operators of Internet service providers would have access to better data.  That's not the case. The general approach has been to mail something out to a listserv and say, 'Hey, can you try this and see if you have a problem?'"

The ultimate goal of the project is to make the internet more reliable and easy to use.  Says
Krishnamurthy, "We want to give operators a way to tell what's going on quicker, catch problems quicker and solve them quicker."

The research is being funded by the National Science Foundation.

Comments     Threshold

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By bhieb on 4/9/2008 1:25:03 PM , Rating: 3
Now I have a new thing to tell clients when weird stuff just happens. Its the internet black hole! No need to make up some random technical BS to satisfy them, now I have a real acedemic reason.

RE: Sweet
By Raidin on 4/9/2008 2:33:12 PM , Rating: 5
Now if only you could spell academic, your plan will be complete!

RE: Sweet
By S3anister on 4/9/2008 8:22:41 PM , Rating: 3
Great, another tech goon to use one phenomenon to describe another.

I hate it when I call tech support and they try to convince me that my problem is one thing when it very obviously is not.

RE: Sweet
By SlyNine on 4/10/2008 1:22:17 AM , Rating: 5
That's because they are not aloud to tell you that the problem exists in between the chair and the keyboard.

RE: Sweet
By SlyNine on 4/10/2008 1:24:15 AM , Rating: 2

Bitbucket is Full?
By teckytech9 on 4/9/2008 1:18:56 PM , Rating: 5
To sum up this study in one word is simply "network congestion."

However, I agree that there are mysterious forces at work here like buffer overloads caused by errors in routing software.

RE: Bitbucket is Full?
By Katspajamas on 4/9/2008 1:26:45 PM , Rating: 5
I believe that's two words?

RE: Bitbucket is Full?
By Garreye on 4/10/2008 4:00:02 PM , Rating: 3
Ya, and this system that is actively sending packets around the internet looking for these black holes is probably helping a great deal to alleviate the problem...

RE: Bitbucket is Full?
By SiliconAddict on 4/11/2008 2:37:24 PM , Rating: 2
Umm consider how many packets are put out by 100 'puters...I highly doubt its going to impact the internet at all.

Happens a lot to me
By v1001 on 4/9/2008 12:17:05 PM , Rating: 3
I constantly get that. I click a link and nothing. Just keeps trying it seems but nothing happens. I click it again and then it instantly goes there. Or I'll use my favorites and nothing happens...nothing ..nothing. Then I redo it from my favorite and it goes instantly there. It has always baffled me and is quite bothersome. Seems to happen more and more these days.

RE: Happens a lot to me
By geddarkstorm on 4/9/2008 12:33:54 PM , Rating: 2
Indeed, I've run into the same problem numerous times with every computer I've used connected to the net. It's intriguing on the one hand, and annoying on the other. The internet may be getting too congested for routing tables to make effective, untangled look ups, or that's my hypothesis.

RE: Happens a lot to me
By AnnihilatorX on 4/9/2008 8:23:58 PM , Rating: 2
That had been happening a lot lately to me.
Some site you could normally reach, would suddenly dead, when my friend could still access it.

It may be my ISP though.

Good initiative
By therealnickdanger on 4/9/2008 11:59:53 AM , Rating: 2
I was just reading about this earlier this morning and they are definitely on the right track. It's little stuff like this that people take for granted, but can impact a lot of potential customers or readers or whatever.

RE: Good initiative
By theapparition on 4/9/2008 12:04:44 PM , Rating: 2
I think thier own site just fell into a black hole.......since I coundn't access it for a while :P

couldn't resist
By sphyder on 4/9/2008 5:11:53 PM , Rating: 3
what if - ironic edition

Today, researchers found that black holes in the internet were caused by program designed to detect them.

In other news look-alike searching for body double.

By Nik00117 on 4/9/2008 12:05:45 PM , Rating: 2
I was able to find a fault very close to where I live :) this is cool.

By greylica on 4/9/2008 7:08:17 PM , Rating: 2
I guess I have a clue !
Machines running deep packet inspection leading themselves to send packets for oblivion when they cannot understand whats inside ...

Deep Packet inspection machines deserves a new stick.

Gremlins capable !

Or then

Gremlins Inside !

Today I am not drunk, haushasuhsa !!!

The internet IS a black hole.
By gladiatus on 4/10/2008 11:38:21 AM , Rating: 2
G string theory
By SiliconAddict on 4/11/2008 2:33:59 PM , Rating: 2
Is alive and well on the internet also.

And in other news....
By mikecel79 on 4/9/08, Rating: 0
Say it ain't so
By cochy on 4/9/08, Rating: -1
RE: Say it ain't so
By James Holden on 4/9/2008 12:29:06 PM , Rating: 2
And what do you propose they put their research efforts into instead? This is exactly what the NSF should be funding in my opinion.

RE: Say it ain't so
By iFX on 4/9/08, Rating: 0
RE: Say it ain't so
By James Holden on 4/9/2008 1:18:34 PM , Rating: 2
As one of the original ARPANET and NFSNET users, I can tell you this is exactly what the NFS should be funding. Maybe if we had some method of planning out where all the "black holes" exist on the internet, we could route traffic more intelligently. Some kind of diagram, or ... map?

Wait we don't need those things. It's not news. We'll just let Verizon figure it out for us. Great attitude.

RE: Say it ain't so
By iFX on 4/11/2008 4:42:14 PM , Rating: 2
LOL look the angry/childish owners/editors of this site reduced my rating again. Any time they are critizied for posting nonsense they get angry and lower everyone's rating.

RE: Say it ain't so
By AssBall on 4/16/2008 2:31:58 PM , Rating: 2
Oh noes you has deep personal emotional attatchment to your dailytech comment rating....

RE: Say it ain't so
By Ringold on 4/9/2008 1:36:35 PM , Rating: 2
There are a huge number of things that would be far more ground-breaking than "Hey guys, look, these tubes arent connecting!"

First interesting project that gets about zero funding I can think of is Cosmology@Home.

"The goal of Cosmology@Home is to search for the model that best describes our Universe and to find the range of models that agree with the available astronomical and particle physics data. ... Our research group is involved in several areas of theoretical and phenomenological cosmology: the earliest instants of time, when the Universe formed, the cosmic microwave background, the cosmic dark ages, structure formation, dark matter and dark energy as well as the development and adaptation of mathematics, statistics and computation to advance the state of cosmology."

A matter of opinion perhaps, but the above sounds much more interesting.

Something tells me that, generally speaking, if one is a researcher trying to get some government coin for anything that doesn't have the super-sexy "global warming" phrase in it (or other less catchy or older buzz words) then they must be getting starved by the billions that have been diverted to global warming thing. I'd like to see the NSF filling that void rather than making cute maps.

Beyond all that, it sounds to me like something the industry should be keeping an eye on regardless, therefore this to me sounds like a government handout to an industry making plenty of money.

I only skimmed over the titles, but if this were on that page it would be the least interesting, least important one on there -- just in my opinion, anyway.

RE: Say it ain't so
By dflynchimp on 4/9/2008 12:29:44 PM , Rating: 2
that the internet has routing issues is a given, but instead of sticking with knowing that it happens, it's nice that someone's figuring out how and why it happens. Internet traffic is only going to keep rising, and if these "black holes" rise in frequency, it would be beneficial for them to figure a way around them by understanding their occurrence.

RE: Say it ain't so
By Polynikes on 4/9/2008 12:58:03 PM , Rating: 2
Indeed. If they can figure out this problem and figure out a way to fix it, the internet could be a better place to surf. I find it annoying when a site I know is up and accessible simply doesn't load properly at random.

RE: Say it ain't so
By cochy on 4/9/08, Rating: -1
RE: Say it ain't so
By James Holden on 4/9/2008 1:19:40 PM , Rating: 2
What a jackass. You don't think this is remotely useful to anyone? Should they call you back when it runs Crysis?

RE: Say it ain't so
By eye smite on 4/9/08, Rating: -1
RE: Say it ain't so
By James Holden on 4/9/2008 1:43:48 PM , Rating: 5
As I've said up and down on this forum, I was there when UIUC hooked up the original NSFNET. This is something I'm extremely passionate about because I was there 30 years ago. And guess what, that was on NSF money then too.

I've followed your posts a lot eye smite. I'd be surprised if you were even alive when some of us were off making the Internet a place where you could go anonymously smear people for not conforming to your silly little view of the world.

Go to hell honestly.

RE: Say it ain't so
By i3arracuda on 4/9/2008 2:11:42 PM , Rating: 2
I'd be surprised if you were even alive when some of us were off making the Internet a place where you could go anonymously smear people for not conforming to your silly little view of the world.

Now that's the Internets I call home! I was worried there for a sec...wait. You're not Al Gore. This...this is...

Oh my God.

All this time...we finally really did it! You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God...damn you all to hell!

RE: Say it ain't so
By eye smite on 4/9/08, Rating: -1
RE: Say it ain't so
By eye smite on 4/9/08, Rating: 0
RE: Say it ain't so
By bupkus on 4/9/08, Rating: 0
RE: Say it ain't so
By StormEffect on 4/9/2008 1:20:47 PM , Rating: 1
So what is the cause then?

Seriously, 7% is a significant portion of the net, even if it is spread out to 15minute intervals over 3 weeks.

I mean, you seem so confident, I assumed you had an answer as to why this is happenening.

If you can't respond then you should probably admit you have no idea what you are talking about.

RE: Say it ain't so
By murphyslabrat on 4/9/2008 1:37:22 PM , Rating: 2
--from the mouth of babes, or a first year Comp-Sci student--
outdated routing tables, leading to a (extensive) series of miss-directed packet forwards, in turn causing the TTL to expire? Or maybe routers that made a computation error due to whatever atmospheric/swamp-gas reasons?

7% is pretty big for a fluke like the second example, but what else would it be? It is interesting that they are mapping it out, but it still seems a little pointless. So, the checksum comes in wrong or the timeout expires; you hit the refresh button. It could improve speeds by a maximum of 7%, but I don't see what else there is to it.

RE: Say it ain't so
By thornburg on 4/10/2008 11:15:14 AM , Rating: 2
It could improve speeds by a maximum of 7%, but I don't see what else there is to it.

I don't think the point is to recoup the 7%. The point is to make sure that 7% doesn't become 17% or 70%...

RE: Say it ain't so
By eye smite on 4/9/2008 1:34:28 PM , Rating: 1
Ah, but we need drama and flare to get it real attention. lol

RE: Say it ain't so
By Samus on 4/9/2008 1:45:59 PM , Rating: 3
I don't think using the term "black hole" is appropriate for describing a failure in DNS routing. The problem stems from propagation anomylies.

RE: Say it ain't so
By PhoenixKnight on 4/9/2008 2:21:25 PM , Rating: 3
I agree, we already know the problem. The tubes are getting clogged with all the stuff being sent trough them. We just need to blast more lotto balls through to clear the Internets.

RE: Say it ain't so
By Jim28 on 4/9/2008 6:31:41 PM , Rating: 5
I agree on one hand and disagee on the other.
As an invididual who makes and has made large portions of the internet backbone. Routing table black holes are more common than you think. Mainly falling under human error than anything else or two ISPs griping about paying the bill, and severing connections or black holing traffic on purpose. (Yes it does happen.)
This research can not be to improve the Internet itself as the BER for established routes is waaaaayyyyyyy below 7%!
As others have noted, human error, congestion and once in a very blue moon errors in flight are the cause. It is still very intersting to look at such a complex system like they are doing from the edges without knowledge of its interworkings and find these black holes. Seems a lot like economics study as people are in charge of the Internet and the Internet changes state every second or so, according to the daily priorities of everyone connected to it! They are mostly catching the effects of people managing and attempting to control a complex system. (Kinda like economics.) The internet is not a static physical system like the stars. The internet is more similar to gravity changing direction or the gravitation constant 10 times a day!
BTW "black hole" is an official term.

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