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Sunday, July 15, 2012

4 Ways The Internet Could Go Down

Technicians lay a fiber optic cable in October 2011 to allow Gabon and 22 African countries to get an Internet connection.
Technicians lay an undersea fiber-optic cable
Since so much of our everyday lives revolve around the Internet, the last thing we ever want to think about is the entire Internet going down and taking us back to the stone age (or what would seem like it). Imagine: no more writing collaborations, no more software updates, no more communicating with a client, no more social media marketing, no more music streaming and downloads.

While most of us believe that the Internet is super robust, fault-tolerant and distributed (which it is), here are 4 doomsday scenarios that could cause an Internet blackout, as described in this article for CNN:

1. Space Weather: Space weather is primarily dictated by the sun, and even though it's 92 million miles away, solar flares have reeked havoc on us before. Solar flares as far back as 1859 caused telegraph lines to burn, and in 1998 took out satellites from the US, Germany, Japan, NASA and Motorola. Another one in 1989 took out the power in Quebec and halted the Toronto stock exchange for 3 hours. These solar flares, while large, are small compared to the potential damage from "the big one." Don't forget that we're about to head into the next cycle of solar activity that will peak in mid-2013.

2. Cyber Warfare: We've already seen what could happen with Stuxnet as it took down the Iranian nuclear program for a bit. Although military communications are somewhat hardened, we've been warned time and again what could happen to our power grid, communications networks and water systems under the right cyber circumstances. And a cyber attack would be launched over the Interent, which may prompt the military to attempt to shut it down (some say they have the capability). Be happy we don't know what we don't know.

3. Political Mandate: Speaking of shutting it down, there's been legislation on the table to install an "Internet Kill Switch" that gives the president "emergency authority to shut down private sector or government networks in the event of a cyber attack capable of causing massive damage or loss of life." While this isn't legislated yet (the kill switch might not even be possible), some unknown and unpublicized attack could cause our modem lights to glow red while we scratch our heads why.

4. Cable Cutting: 99% of global Internet traffic depends upon deep-sea fiber-optic cables on the ocean floor. A little snip here and another there, and guess what? No more Internet. Don't laugh, this already happened in 2008 when 2 undersea cables were severed, causing 75% of the communications with Europe and the Middle East to go away. Then a few days later another was cut near Dubai, then a few more days later, two more were cut off the coast of Malaysia. Guess what? No one knows how or why. Investigation showed no ships in the areas 12 hours before or after, and the mystery continues until this day.

So if you think that your Internet, no matter how slow and pokey it may be, is safe. Think again. For a lot more on the subject, read the CNN article.

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