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Tracking and Tracing Cyber-Attacks: Technical Challenges and Global Policy Issues

November 2002 Special Report
Howard F. Lipson

In this report, Howard Lipson describes the technical challenges and global policy issues related to cyber attacks.


Software Engineering Institute

CMU/SEI Report Number


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In the cyber world, the current state of the practice regarding the technical ability to track and trace Internet-based attacks is primitive at best. Sophisticated attacks can be almost impossible to trace to their true source using current practices. The anonymity enjoyed by today's cyber-attackers poses a grave threat to the global information society, the progress of an information-based international economy, and the advancement of global collaboration and cooperation in all areas of human endeavor. 

Part I of this report examines the current state of the Internet environment and the reasons why tracking and tracing cyber-attackers is so difficult. Part II examines some promising research on technical approaches that may greatly improve the ability to track and trace cyber-attacks to their source. Also discussed are some policy considerations with regard to privacy, information sharing, liability, and other policy issues that would be faced by the U. S. State Department in negotiating international agreements for cooperation and collaboration in the tracking and tracing of cyber-attacks. The report concludes with a closer look at technical and policy considerations for next-generation Internet protocols to enhance track and trace capabilities.