Monday, August 10, 2009

Honey, I Broke the Internet.

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:


  1. This blog just reminded me of a book that I am currently reading. It is called "One Second After", by William R. Forstchen. It is about how our nation and our lives would change if we suddenly had no technology due to an EMP weapon. It is fiction, but something to think about, and definitely interesting to read.

  2. Our lives are completely revolved around technology and more specifically, the internet. Hospitals, schools, and almost every workforce centers their programs and functions off of the World Wide Web. It is scary to think of all of the information that could be lost if it were to crash--definitely something to think about.

  3. Wired came out with its annual brave/dangerous/shocking ideas list this September ( Number one is to "go on the cyberoffensive." I was surprised at how slow I've been to start thinking about cyberattacks in modern warfare.

    I love the idea as long as I'm not on the zapped end of the Internet. I can't even begin to fathom all the broader consequences, but on a personal scale, I'm sure it would be difficult. I rely on the Internet to get my news, to get my entertainment, to talk to my friends and family, to manage my money, to keep up with appointments, everything! So far, I've just been going along trusting that there are very smart people out there, white hats and all, working hard to protect the 'net.

  4. The quote "you don't know what you got till its gone" comes to mind when reading this post. The internet is part of my daily life because all of my school work is online and I stay connected with many of my friends online. Sadly, it has never come to mind that I could somehow lose internet, it just didnt seem like an option. I mean if it was ever down at my house I could pick it up somewhere else or use some random wireless access. I thought the internet was dependable for most everything, but I guess it can be eaisly shut down.
    I am able to live when I do not have access to technology, for example I lost my phone and had to wait two days to replace it. I was proud of myself because I survived and frankly it was good for me to live without as many disruptions. But thinking that I truely survived without technology is a lie because I used my friends phone, facebook and email to ensure I wasn't missing anything.