In a dusty pre-millennium geography journal I was reading the other day, I skimmed over an article that iterated the great challenges faced in trying to visualize the Internet, and "access" to it via different ISPs determined by living in different metropolitan areas in the US.
Fast forward 14 years, and that seems a lesser challenge. Today, visualizing cyberspace is a "consensual hallucination" many of us want to see and feel more of. Now, take a look at this map, where it's a bright, sunny day, and everyone is attacking each others' networks. Business as usual.
It's the Digital Attack Map, and it was produced in a collaborative effort by Google Ideas and Arbor Networks to raise awareness about distributed denial of service attacks. You know, those malicious digital attempts to choke, or shutdown websites by sending them volumes of traffic far too large for them to handle. The map "surfaces anonymous attack traffic data to let users explore historic trends and find reports of outages happening on a given day," as its about page explains.
Created using attack data from Arbor’s "ATLAS® global threat intelligence system," this is the D.A.R.E. of DDoS—it's about the danger of having information streams cut off. Under the heading "DDoS Attacks Matter," Google and Arbor explain that "sites covering elections are brought down to influence their outcome, media sites are attacked to censor stories, and businesses are taken offline by competitors looking for a leg up."
While this map is here to emphasize the impact that screwing with the way the Internet works can have on everyday citizens of real-world democracies, I wonder if it's too pretty for its own good. To those carrying out the attacks (activists, money makers, or just malicious, anarchistic hackers), I'd think the live display of their attack data is read with pride. Like graffiti.
We've seen some very interesting visualizations of the Internet's endless flow of information in the past year. Namely, one of Internet-use over the course of a day, resulting in a beautiful Lite-Brite-like map that was created by hacking into 420,000 computers. There were also some YouTube videos that lent themselves to visualize what a DDoS attack looks like. While the former wasn't very legal to create, it has endlessly fascinated and consumed web-users with its repeating animation.
While Digital Attack Map is a public service announcement that'll likely captivate a long stare (and fall deaf on many ears, like my mom's), this live map is anything but underwhelming. For those bored with the live map, the site features playbacks of bigger DDoS attacks in recent history. Just scroll down to the bottom of the page, where you can watch as Citizen's Bank, Github/Obamacare, and Al-Qaida's forums are attacked.