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Unthinkable? The Internet Could Crash, And Here’s How

Unthinkable? The Internet Could Crash, And Here's How

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Let us imagine that on one dark, stormy night, Facebook goes down … for an hour. You might think that this wouldn’t be much of a big deal, since it’s merely a social network that enables pictures of cats and selfies to go viral.

But when such a crisis happened in late September – the third time this year — the temporary incapacitation of this social media behemoth effectively sent shockwaves throughout the digital ether.

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Facebook is just one network and it was only offline for roughly an hour. But consider how many other commonly used apps and websites access Facebook in order to log in and even construct user accounts. The answer is that a whopping 17 million websites use Facebook to connect with their users – or in other words – a number that’s large enough to inflict economic damage if it’s down long enough.

So this somewhat laughable problem just became quite a bit more serious. Thankfully, that was only one social media site. But what would it take for all the web’s dominos to topple and crash simultaneously?

Defining What ‘Crash’ Means

Before we begin parsing out this cyber threat of global proportions, let’s first talk about what I mean by the word “crash.” When I say that the Internet could crash, I’m talking about a complete and total blackout or that of a large enough network region to cause mass destabilization in communication and commerce. There are two possible levels of severity in this type of scenario.

  • The first level would concern a situation in which an entire hemisphere is no longer able to connect server-to-server. This failure would wipe out all fundamental utilities and primary, continental Internet data highways.
  • In the second (and even worse scenario), every person in the world attempting to access any site on the Internet would receive nothing more than an error message.

Can such unthinkable scenarios occur?

Unfortunately, yes. They are possible and even imminent if steps are not taken to prevent them. The following are but a few high-probability catalysts, which could trigger this massively disruptive digital disaster.

Electromagnetic Pulse Weapon

How do you stop a million-ton moving train?

Easy. Remove the tracks. Sure, the wreckage afterward won’t be pretty, but the train in question is no longer in motion.

To its core, this is what an electromagnetic pulse weapon (EMP) could do to the Internet. However, the EMP would need an extremely wide radius of effect in the thousands of miles, since the web is much like a self-healing and adaptive organism. Nationwide connection speeds might become noticeably slower if a ground-based EMP were detonated. However just because one regional network goes down doesn’t mean that this data can’t traverse other nodes within the larger, continental network.

But then if a foreign enemy decided to detonate a nuclear warhead at an extremely high altitude over Kansas, then the resulting electromagnetic shockwave would wipe out anything remotely connected to the power grid in its path. The affected utilities would include all servers within that EMP’s radius, and thus, all US Internet infrastructure. Countless major nodes would be concentrated within this radius (including 10 percent of international data connections via orbiting satellites, which would then essentially be rendered into orbiting space junk).

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This particular level-one scenario might not necessarily crash the entire Internet, but it would certainly have a debilitating effect on global connection speeds and access to any website that was once hosted on a server within the US.

It’s Weather … From Space

An EMP-type energy wave also could be unleashed upon the world from space. If the entire earth were to sustain a direct hit from an X-class solar flare, such as the kind experienced during the Carrington Event, then this too would effectively crash the Internet with global annihilation potential. NASA explains:

“Space weather can produce solar storm electromagnetic fields that induce extreme currents in wires, disrupting power lines, causing wide-spread blackouts and affecting communication cables that support the Internet.”

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One reason why this event could inflict a MUCH larger-scale blackout of global proportions, in comparison to that of a high-altitude nuclear detonation, is because the earth itself does not sit still. Due to our planet’s rotation, this energy wave could sweep over the entirety of the earth’s surface like a curtain.

So in the event that this energy curtain sweeps from Beijing to Manhattan, then all those nodes in between are scrap metal.

Cyber Attack

internet biz 22611In 2013, it is believed that several major U.S.-based web companies were attacked by an organized army of Syrian hackers, sympathetic to Bashar al Assad’s regime. Websites of these companies, such as The New York Times, NASDAQ, Twitter and Google, appeared to be their targets. According to Glenn McDonald of Discovery News, these companies “were hit with disruptions and extended outages that sent worrisome ripples through cyberspace. The disruptions were blamed on technical glitches, and possibly hackers, with some reports suggesting a coordinated attack by a pro-Syria cyberterrorist organization.”

There are two peculiarly sobering ramifications to this 2013 cyberattack that we need to consider if this were truly the work of Assad’s digital strike team.

  1. This pro-Syrian group of hackers was being funded by a beaten and broken Middle Eastern regime and likely possessed limited resources in comparison to a government with the capability to wage a conventional war, such as North Korea.
  2. It took several months for penetration analysts to determine the source of these attacks, meaning that if a cyberattack were more effectively coordinated and funded, then the total destabilization of the Internet could occur without warning or recognition of a threat.

The point is, if Asad’s people can take on Google, then Putin’s people could theoretically take on the entire Internet, shut it down, and then stroll away whistling nonchalantly down the sidewalk.

Kill Switch

There’s another major reason why we can say (with an uncomfortably high level of certainty) that widespread Internet access can, in fact, be cut off by a government. It’s due to the fact that governments have openly discussed their own capability to do just that. In June 2010, a proposed bill almost gave the Oval Office powers to throw the “kill switch” in the event of a national crisis, according to CNN. The bill, known as the “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act” (PCNAA), sought to give the President “emergency authority to shut down private sector or government networks in the event of a cyberattack capable of causing massive damage or loss of life.”

If a government claims that it can execute an operation that’s large enough to shut down its population’s access to the Internet, then this type of digital invasion is theoretically possible for a foreign military to execute against the U.S. Once the invading hackers can overpower the enemy’s cyber defenses, then they can throw the kill switch themselves – doing far more damage than any conventional army ever could.

If the Cable Were Cut

According to the above CNN article, some analysts also have pinned an instance of Internet outage to a benevolently oblivious ship that was merely dragging its anchor on the ocean floor. It was thought that the ship had severed a major deep sea data cable by doing so. This story was proven wrong, however. To this day no one seems to know who or what cut that cable. This also presents us with yet another HUGE vulnerability.

In this case, even a moderately decent naval fleet wouldn’t actually need to go toe-to-toe with our aircraft carriers to wage war against the U.S. In reality, if their commander merely wants to disrupt the global economy, then that fleet simply needs to drag their anchors along the ocean floor, perhaps?

Tyranny’s Info Vacuum

Since these vulnerabilities exist, a government could easily take an axe to its own data highways and hubs. Until then, any takeover attempt by some subversive tyrannical entity would show up on Twitter before the first political dissenter could give a good, hearty belly laugh when black ski masks show up at the door.

That’s why tyranny can only survive in an information vacuum.

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What would America be like without Internet? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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6 comments

  1. The internet has become such a part of most people’s lives that the emotional and mental impact might do as much or more damage than actual loss of access to information.

    Also, if an EMP took down the internet, it would take down the entire power grid, wouldn’t it? Even if you’re completely “off grid,” you still depend on that for supplies and services you can’t create yourself.

  2. Ariel Gail MacLean

    I believe the Loss of The Internet As We Have Known It –is imminent. I also think Americans are psychologically and materially unprepared for the loss of this necessary tool for self-education, self-protection, problem-solving, and coordination with kindred spirits. In the end, I hold you and me responsible for our own health and safety, so we will have no one to blame and no where to turn when this disappears. The difference between those who survive and those who do not, will be our ability to face facts now, to work out our individual alternate methods of sustaining a liveable life, and to adapt to and alter our expectations based on real-world facts & scenarios — not fantasy and wishful thinking and unsustainable lifestyle addictions. Most Americans have a literally disabling Sense of Entitlement and are squandering essential preparedness time and resources trying to maintain their preferred or current Standard of Living with no regard for the fact that it is 11:59 and the clock is ticking. Again, dealing with ones’ Sense of Entitlement will initiate many necessary changes that can lay your path ahead in terms of getting ready for the unknown changes which we cannot control but we know are coming and we will be forced to deal with. “Preparatory Grieving” is the professional term given to what needs to be happening inside each of us, and mentally healthy people understand this. “Preparedness” is about much more than buying 25-year stored food and piling up water/filters. Most people are behind schedule on their psycho-spiritual preparedness and that is why the imminent disappearance of the Internet will be so difficult for so many. Americans are addiction-level dependency on the Internet for learning anything.

  3. There is no Internet Kill Switch and an EMP could not shut it all down.

    The Internet was invented to prevent Soviet missiles from being able to shut down our communications. You can shut down local access in areas, but you can’t shut it down completely. It was designed to have multiple redundancies.

    The only kill switch that exists is the one between the military’s unclassified network and the rest of the Internet.

  4. If an EMP of solar flare hits , the Internet will be the very least of our worries. Without electricity, the 21st century comes to a screeching halt. No water pumps working , no sewer systems working, no food deliveries, basically whole cities abandoned. After three days of being thirsty and hungry, the Internet will not even register in ones brain.

  5. I see about a dozen or more of these kinds of articles per day. Would a massive EMP cause chaos and deaths, for sure.

    But lets not forget the millions of people around the globe that live without power every single day. So we can’t get on facebook, big deal. So people will have to revert back to what our grandparents during the depression had to do “Rely on ourselves” big whoop.

    Far greater threats aside from the internet will be present, people will turn on one another, but in a realistic perspective such an EPM is not going to happen anytime within most of our lifetimes. Minor ones are more plausible, taking out several cities or even states.

    Would it take a while to get things back up, absolutely. Do we have far too much garbage online that doesn’t need to be, for sure.

    Look at places right now dealing with floods, they don’t have power, internet, or cell phones (those have all but died by now) but they are making it through. The constant fear mongering is just getting old. And sites like this one seem to publish far more of that type of “news” instead of actually showing people how to prepare for any situation.

    If each person / family prepared for even the most minor of disasters, the fear and chaos of a larger disaster would far easier to deal with. But instead 99% of the working class spend every bit of free time reading articles like this, faces buried in their phones and tablets, bookmarking websites instead of actually learning any real skills or actually doing any planning.

    I could rant for days on this, but the bottom line is this, if you can’t go camping for a few days without feeling uncomfortable or needing power ran to your campsite, a power outage caused by a hypothetical mass EMP is the least of your worries.

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