In a research paper and technical report presented at the USENIX Networked Systems Design and Implementation (NDSI) conference at the beginning of April 2011, researchers from Northwestern University presented new methods for estimating the exact physical location of an IP address tens or hundreds of times more accurately than previously thought possible. The technique builds on existing approaches but adds a new element: it uses local businesses, government agencies, and educational institutions as landmarks, helping it achieve a median accuracy of just 690m—less than half a mile.
The researchers, led by Yong Wang, used a variety of statistical techniques to combine data from 163 public ping servers and 136 traceroute servers into a precise estimate of the range of possible physical locations for a particular IP address. They state that, despite the large number of data sources they need to combine, their technique is capable of real-time use, giving results in just one or two seconds in real-world applications. The novel technique uses several iterations to successively hone in on a target’s location.
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