They believe that garbage traffic generated by malware and malicious scanning activities, commonly described as Internet background radiation (IBR), could be a valuable tool and early warning indicator when parts of the Internet are not reachable.
As part of their research, the approach not only provides insight of plain outages, but also the causes and possible geopolitical strategies. For example, the researchers at UCSD found that Gaddafi government of Libya may have tested a firewall "to conduct higher precision host-based blocking while they were executing the coarser approach of router-based disconnection." The measurements were possible via UCSD's network telescope, which operates similar to what one would consider a garbage collector of network traffic on the Internet.
So far, the technology is not advanced enough to come up with an early warning system for natural disasters, the researchers said, but they have been experimenting with metrics that may lead them to that goal. For example, they focused on a significant shift of the number of IP addresses that reach the monitoring receiver. Their initial IBR traffic research showed that Japan's devastating Tohoku earthquake "had much higher impact on network infrastructure than the Christchurch earthquake [in New Zealand]." The observation allowed them to determine the geographic extent of the disasters, likely damage, and approximate restoration times.