Could Cyber Terrorists Shut Down The Internet?

In 2017, the BBC reported a story about Stanford University professor Jeff Hancock and the day he realized how deeply the internet has infiltrated every aspect of our lives. As a professor in the 2000s, Hancock would sometimes challenge students to stay off the internet for the weekend and report how it affected them. In 2009, after a year-long sabbatical, he gave his students this familiar assignment — and, for the first time, they responded that it was impossible.

In the span of a year, staying off the internet had transformed from an interesting challenge into an unthinkable feat. Hancock’s students claimed it would disrupt every aspect of their lives — from school work, to part-time jobs, to their social lives and the ways they communicated with their families.

The Age of High-Speed Internet

Now, a decade later, with the global rise of smartphones, the internet has become an even more integral part of our daily lives. Worldwide, more than 4.2 billion people are online, and many Americans rely on it every day for web browsing, online gaming, video streaming, and more. It’s easy to take access for granted and to forget that as recently as 1995, less than 1% of the world had internet service.

Is it possible to ever return to that number?

The internet is not invincible. Although it’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever experience a global internet shutdown, and that even regional outages are unlikely to last long, our connectivity is still vulnerable. In today’s post, we’re taking a look at whether cyber terrorism could shut down the internet. Read on to learn more, and if you’re a resident of Texas, be sure to contact Clarus Broadband today to learn about our affordable internet options!

Where To Go To Destroy The Internet

The internet is not intangible — it’s a huge network of metal, plastic, and fiber laid across the globe like a giant spiderweb. It has physical foundations in the cables that carry data between continents, the routers that forward internet traffic, the name servers that make websites intelligible to humans, and the giant data centers that host all the online information in the world.

Theoretically, cyber terrorists could target any of these points of vulnerability — and they’re not very well hidden, either. As tech writer Sam Biddle points out in his very informative guide to destroying the internet, the FCC publicly discloses the location of every single data cable that touches American shores. You can easily find master lists of every server array and data center location on the globe — along with helpful Google Street Views in case you get lost on your way.

Physical Attacks

In theory, cyber terrorists could wreak havoc on our regional, national, or even global connectivity by destroying the internet’s physical infrastructure. This could be achieved by bombing the name servers that translate unintelligible code into language humans can understand, or by taking an axe to the tough cables that serve as the internet’s data backbone, or by setting the world’s biggest data centers aflame.

Fortunately, there is no one point that you could bomb to take down the whole web. The internet is incredibly redundant and resilient, and even if one point or path is destroyed, it can quickly re-route and get back on track.

From time to time, cables are damaged in attacks or natural disasters, and connectivity is rarely interrupted for long. Even in the 2011 Japanese tsunami, which destroyed multiple cables connecting the island nation to the rest of the world, internet connectivity was relatively unaffected due to multiple restoration options.

To successfully destroy the internet, attackers would have to mount an epically coordinated scheme on a global scale to simultaneously take out every cable, server array, and data center across the planet.

Digital Attacks

More commonly, cyber terrorists launch lower-scale digital attacks on individual servers or routers.

A distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack involves sending a huge amount of information to a server that can’t handle it, flooding it and disrupting connection for every website that’s hosted there.

Border gateway protocol (BGP) hacking entails manipulating internet routers to re-direct information to a new destination. Routers are the bounce points that direct packets of digital information across great distances, and they can be intercepted. BGP hacking allows large swaths of information to be hi-jacked, stolen, or merely snooped on by third parties (such as governmental intelligence agencies).

Although it’s been theorized that overloading routers with BGP updates could knock down the entire internet, it’s highly unlikely that digital attacks alone could do global damage. The internet is huge, with millions of individual routers and billions of paths for data to take. Coordinating a full-scale digital attack against every piece of the web is effectively impossible.

Contact Clarus Broadband To Build An Even More Connected Future

Fortunately, a doomsday scenario in which hackers completely destroy the internet is not very feasible, so you can use it without fear!

At Clarus Broadband, we are dedicated to building an even more connected future. We believe everyone deserves access to affordable internet plans, and we’re proud to be building great rural internet options for residents of Texas. Contact us to learn more about our plans for connecting the world via fiber optic internet, and learn what we can provide for your community today!