A mapping tool that shows how internet data is transported has been developed by researchers at the University of Toronto. The map also shows that the National Security Agency uses just a small number of surveillance sites to obtain access online traffic from throughout the globe.
The researchers developed IXmaps, a visual interactive database that shows the routes of web traffic. The map allows users to get a real sense of what happens when they send and receive information online.
In some cases, even just transporting data to nearby locations can result in data packets moving across the globe. Such instances have been referred to as “boomerang routes” by researchers. The map also includes the locations of NSA listening stations.
Usually, data packets try to take the shortest and easiest route to their intended end point. This means that they can travel to sites that are physically located all around the world. With the advanced networks of the United States, extremely large amounts of global web traffic end up going through the country. This web traffic can then be obtained by the NSA.
Some data will actually exit one country, enter the United States and then return to the original country. This can let the NSA see data that was never intended to be seen by anyone in the United States in the first place. The issue becomes more prominent when foreigners try to use American websites.
Critical United States routing hubs travel through New York, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco. The NSA has installed splitter devices at these hubs that allow the agency to receive a copy of everything that passes through. Using these hubs, the NSA can essentially monitor much of the world. This often includes highly personal information such as health records, student records, financial holdings, intimate conversations and controversial beliefs.
With the revelation that the NSA is conducting mass surveillance throughout the world. Many countries have had some strong responses. Most notably, the Safe Harbor Agreement that covered data exchanged between the United States and Europe has been dissolved following a successful legal challenge.
Now, many countries are taking efforts to contain their data flows within their own borders. Some countries are considering laws that would force internet companies to keep data on servers within their country. This has sparked controversy, as many internet engineers believe that the internet is essentially borderless and that network efficiency should be most important.
However, other countries are trying to beat the United States by making their own servers stronger so that their data will be less likely to flow through America. This would keep the internet efficient while also addressing growing privacy concerns. Regardless, it goes without saying that the NSA has upset many people throughout the world with its invasive security practices.