In much of the industrialized world we have come to see the Internet as a force of nature. Like sunshine and storm, it rolls uninterrupted around the globe and out to the ubiquitous flock of satellites that buzz like bees around the azure bloom of Planet Earth. The events of the last few days demonstrate that in reality the Internet, like aspects of nature, is fragile indeed. Here’s what happened:
Russia and Georgia [the nation, not the US state with the football team] have, shall we say, "issues." As the Soviet Union crumbled and previously independent nations and wannabe nations sorted out the new maps, Russia and Georgia asserted rights to the same turf. As a war it was smaller than most – but it got a lot of press here because at the time we liked Georgia and didn’t like Russia. The shooting part of the war has been over for a while but the bad blood continues to bubble up.
These days, bombs and bullets are taking a back seat to bits and blogs. Among the current players is an economics professor from Georgia who is a strident nationalistic blogger. The professor seems to have rubbed his Russian counterparts the wrong way. They responded with a “denial of service”* cyber attack on the blogger’s tools: Twitter, Facebook, and LiveJournal. Twitter went down for most of a day and the other two were severely compromised.
The point is this – two or three angry and immature geeks brought down large portions of the Internet in a fit of personal pique. They either did not stop to think, or did not care, that others depend upon the Internet for information, and communication, for work, for directions, for entertainment and for revenue. More frightening still is the thought that they had no idea of the potential scope of their personal feud. In any case, the big old monolithic Internet got zapped in a personal fight. A number of questions come to mind:
- How dependable is the Internet?
- To what extent do you assume your Internet connection will always be available?
- How disrupted is your life when you are separated from your technology?
- Do you most often use the Internet as “big and public space” or as “small and private space”?
*In a “denial of service” attack, the attacking computer(s) overwhelm the target computer with a flood of bogus messages that prevents the victim from making normal use of their computer. For a more complete definition see this article from US-CERT: The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team: http://www.us-cert.gov/cas/tips/ST04-015.html