Jim Cowie is chief scientist of Dyn, a company with specialised sensors around the world that function to keep an eye on when cables go down or governments shut down the internet in conflict zones.
The company effectively has its eyes on the world’s internet access — who can connect and who can’t.
Cowie told us that when you sign up for a new service “and it takes forever to get your email confirmation, that’s a good sign that you’ve been incorrectly mapped to the wrong side of the world. When the internet feels unreliable, Dyn handles issues like that.”
Dyn’s recent acquisition, Renesys, is a company that deals in “internet intelligence.” Its product can detect internet interruptions with causes that range from hurricanes and earthquakes to intentional governmental censorship. The relationship between Dyn and Renesys is not unlike the one between Google Maps and Waze: Where Waze places crowdsourced traffic information on Google Maps, Renesys maps internet traffic, noting the figurative jams, collisions, and lane closures.
The sensor network works something like the inverse of the Wayback Machine, a project by Archive.org that captures snapshots of webpages to be viewed at a later date. But instead of HTML files and images, Dyn is logging data benchmarks and other performance-related data. Dyn therefore maintains a sense of where connectivity is alternately good, bad, and nonexistent, and can identify the prime places for businesses to route their internet services.
For example, “the US, Canada, and France are unlikely to fail as internet thruways,” Cowie told us. “Since they’re reliably connected to so many other countries, there are lots of ways to get the internet to work there.” This is less true for countries like Syria and Thailand, who don’t have nearly the number of external connections.
As its proprietary software organizes data gathered from its sensors, Dyn’s monitoring habits are “like having the internet hooked up to a heart rate monitor,” Cowie told us. “We’re detecting cardiac arrhythmia in the internet.”
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