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Global impact of Code-Red computer worm
On July 19, 2001, more than 359,000 computers were infected with the Code-Red worm in less than 14 hours. To help get a feel for the global impact, Jeff Brown, based on analysis by David Moore, animated the geographic spread of the worm in five minute intervals between midnight July 19 and midnight July 20. Infected hosts were mapped to latitude and longitude values using Ixia's IxMapping. The size of each circle relates to the infected hosts mapped to the center of the circle. The analysis and animations are on the CAIDA Web site.
Credit: Jeff Brown, UCSD/CSE; David Moore, CAIDA at SDSC. Copyright 2001 The Regents of the University of California. All Rights Reserved.

Systems you can count on
Crash-proof. Bug-free. Secure. Not words that most people would associate with the computer systems they use every day. The risks of identity theft, e-mail viruses, denial-of-service attacks, system glitches and other hazards often make the average person’s reliance on computer systems more of a leap of faith than a bond of trust.

Behind the scenes, information technology networks control electrical grids, communications systems, financial markets and national defense. They support the critical infrastructure that contributes to economic prosperity, and they provide the foundation for the quality of life we enjoy.

But as our reliance on these networks grows, so does our vulnerability. A 1998 solar storm knocked out a communications satellite and disrupted pager and cell phone networks. On September 11, 2001, regional communications and information utilities were interrupted with the loss of the twin towers. Information technology failures also contributed to the Northeast's blackout in August 2003. And on an almost daily basis, malicious worms, unwittingly circulated viruses and denial-of-service attacks raise Internet alarms and siphon away productive time.

Society requires systems you can count on, and developing such systems ranks as a significant grand challenge for the computer and information sciences. Research is needed into tools to decrease the occurrence of software bugs, administration tools that reduce configuration errors and close security loopholes, security mechanisms that the average person can understand and use, systems that heal themselves when problems arise and new approaches to building reliable software from modular parts, among other areas.

NSF supports many research projects aimed at building more reliable and secure information technology systems. The goal for the Cyber Trust program, to cite one example, is to make these systems—and their successors—not only less vulnerable to attacks and abuse, but also less likely to corrupt data, expose private information or fail when the unexpected happens.

Ultimately, society may demand that researchers must create systems you can count on before allowing information technology to expand further into our economy, our critical infrastructure and our lives.

A Team of Your Own [Next]


The Computing Research Association outlined five illustrative Grand Research Challenges in a report resulting from a three-day workshop supported by the National Science Foundation. The grand challenges relate to building the information systems of the future and provide long-term goals for the activities of the research community.