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Cyberspace: new frontier in conflicts

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Georgia's Internet infrastructure has two big weaknesses. First, most of its external connections go through Russia. Second, there's a lack of internal connections called Internet exchange points. So when a Web surfer in Georgia calls up a Georgian Web page, that request routes through another country, which is similar to driving to Mexico to get across town in San Francisco, says Mr. Woodcock, whose organization helps countries build their own Internet exchange points.

"If you look at how the routing is done on the Internet, there are a few major networks that are providing interconnectivity to everyone else," says Dmitri Alperovitch, director of intelligence analysis at Secure Computing Corporation, a data-security firm based in San Jose, Calif.

A problem for 110 nations

By one count, 110 nations are saddled with the problem. Former Soviet states in particular are poorly connected and increasingly reliant on Russia, he says. That's in part due to the legacy of the Soviet period. But now it has more to do with Russia's ability to offer superior Internet service through its investments in infrastructure. The situation is somewhat analogous to the more-widely-noticed reliance that neighbors have on Russia's energy pipelines.

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