Computer scientist and researcher Yong Wang, from the the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, and colleagues at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, have developed a methodology to determine the physical location of Internet users.
The researchers have demonstrated they are able to pinpoint the location of an IP address on average to within about 690 meters, an unparalleled achievement.
Other mechanisms for estimating the location of an IP address have only been able to get within a radius of about thirty-five kilometers, more than seventy times less accurate than Wang's method.
"We shrink the size of the area where the target potentially is... This is a client-independent method. The client does not need to approve anything," Wang said.
Wang and his colleagues used Google Maps to chart out the location of servers known to be tied to a physical location, such as at Universities and businesses, to create a set of landmarks for their mapping method.
The location process involves a three-stage analysis:
- Measuring the time it takes to send a data packet to a target computer and converting that measurement into distance, usually getting to within 200 kilometers of the subject
- The team then sends data packets to the landmark servers in that area until they determine which server both the target IP address and landmark share, then make a similar calculation of distance based on the time it takes to send a packet
- Then another series of packets are sent to landmark servers in the area, measuring the delays until they find which landmark is closest to the target IP address, then make the final conversion to distance
The process can yield results as accurate as locating a target IP address to within 100 meters.
Using a proxy server negates the accuracy of the method, but Wang says he can detect the use of proxies and therefor eliminate the false positives.
The team presented their findings recently at the Usenix Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation in Boston.