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Quova Inc. Completes Trace of 4 billion IP Adresses

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A once-secretive startup company scanning the Internet
has revealed its purpose.
By Kevin Poulsen
November 2, 2000 1:18 PM PT

A startup company whose stealthy probing of Internet hosts
sparked a security backlash earlier this year has unveiled the
end result of its global scanning: a system that pin-points the
geographic location of Internet users in real time.

Quova, Inc. calls the service "GeoPoint," and touts it as a way for
web companies to personalize their visitor's browsing
experience without relying on cookies or the registration
information users provide voluntarily. "E-tailers can automatically
promote Red Sox hats in Boston and Giants shirts in San
Francisco-with city or zip code level resolution," said company
CEO Rajat Bhargava in the company's inaugural press release.

The system relies on a database
that translates Internet IP addresses to physical locations.
To build that database, the company began electronically tracing
the routes to virtually every Internet address -- four billion
addresses in all -- assigned to corporate, governmental and
home users around the world.

In the process, Quova touched intrusion detection systems from
Wisconsin to Brazil, angering network administrators
increasingly sensitized to anything that may auger a hack attack
-- even the common and generally harmless 'pings' and
'traceroutes' used by the company.

Some of the piqued administrators likened the scanning to a
burglar looking for unlocked doors, while others complained
about the false alarms the probes produced. Security pros
vowed to filter any traffic from the company, and Quova's network
briefly fell under a denial of service attack.

Critics of the practice were particularly aggravated by Quova's
studied silence on the question of what, exactly, it was up to. With
that question answered, Quova's scanning continues, taking in
what the company describes as "hundreds of millions of data
points" each day.


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