What would happen to us if the Internet went down…?
The DDoS attack which brought down the Internet in much of the United States of America and parts of Europe left users without Twitter, Spotify, Reddit, Netflix, and many other websites. The attack also left PlayStation Network users high and dry throughout the day. The DDoS attack was fuelled by your and my common Internet of Things connected devices like smart cameras, CCTVs, smart refrigerators, etc.
For those out of the loop, on Friday morning, a distributed denial-of-service attack against DNS provider, Dyn brought down websites and apps across the internet, temporarily barring access to Twitter, Pinterest, WhatsApp, and more for millions of users. While Dyn was able to stabilize the situation within a few hours, a second DDoS attack began in the early afternoon, again disrupting services across the web.
Dyn provides domain name system services, translating common internet addresses into machine-legible information that ensures you get to where you’re trying to go on the web. So every request you make for a website has to go through a DNS server. Citing Flashpoint, a security intelligence firm, Forbes reports that the attackers appear to have used a Mirai botnet against Dyn.
Mirai botnets exploit Internet of Things devices, taking advantage of their low security to employ them in DDoS attacks. In late September, someone going by the handle Anna-senpai released Mirai’s source code, and since then, the DDoS attacks using Mirai botnets have increased.
The 1.2TB DDoS attack using such Internet of Things connected devices caused a complete breakdown of the Internet in the United States and parts of Europe. What would happen if the Internet to the entire world goes down? Such a scenario has been actually predicted by a security researcher, Bruce Schneier. In fact, Schneier says that some unknown entity is already working on bringing down the whole Internet. Schneier in an essay last month revealed that companies responsible for the basic infrastructure of the Internet are experiencing an escalating series of coordinated attacks that appear designed to test the defenses of its most critical elements. It seems likely that the attack against Dyn which brought down the Internet on 21st and 22nd October was a part of this grand scheme.
So what happens if Schneier is right and the Internet is actually shut down? We look at the impact if such a situation arises in near future.
A situation like this brings E.M. Forster’s disturbing tale ” The Machine Stops” to mind. Written in 1909, it describes the downfall of a civilization that is totally subservient to an automated life-support system. Foster’s novel has its citizens thinking of the Machine as an infallible deity and live in their individual mechanical wombs, communicating and doing business only through the Machine. They worship it in their fashion until in the words of the author:
There came a day when, without the slightest warning, without any previous hint of feebleness, the entire communication system broke down, all over the world, and the world, as they understood it, ended.
Though we have not yet arrived at such a situation where the Internet is a god but it leaves no doubt that our lives totally depend on being online today. Here are some things that would happen if there was no Internet :
1. No Social Networking = No online friends. When Internet connection goes off, the first casualties are social network websites like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat. As soon as this happens, users who normally contacted their friends and colleagues through social media try to contact with friends and family through telephone lines. Due to overload, telecommunication services go down. Due to non-availability of Internet, LTE networks go down leaving users at the mercy of landlines.
2. No Internet = No News/Information Without the Internet you wouldn’t be able to get round the clock information like news, or weather forecast. Air-traffic can’t function, high seas become dangerous. Metros come to a complete standstill. Suburban train networks will run slowly bringing big cities around the world to a creeping halt.
3. No Internet = No online banking/ATMs Online banking goes down. ATMs failures cause huge queues at banks. Banks face huge clearing pile up as the cheque clearing and money transfers have to be done manually. This continues until the time there is a breakdown in services. There would be no PayPal or Visa purchases. Credit and Debit cards would become redundant as Point-of-Sales would not work. NYSE, FTSE, Nifty etc would stop trading in shares and stocks. WTI trades for Crude oil would stop as will Chicago Mercantile Exchange leading to stopping of commodities trade.
4. No Internet = No Satellites. The GPS network would completely breakdown as will the normal satellite communications. Everything which is connected to Satellites would have to be shut down.
The above some examples that come to mind easily. The Internet is much more than dominant in our life today than it was a decade ago. Also millions of IT workers who are dependent on the Internet would be out of work while big companies like Google/Facebook/Uber would shut down.
Seems like a grim scenario! Looks like Foster foresaw the situation in 1909 when he wrote ‘The Machine Stops’. Though there is a counterview to this. The internet is self-resilient. It can’t simply be “shut down” – it’s not built that way. Turning off the Internet is like shutting off religion. You just can’t do it. Come to think of it… it’d be easier to turn off religion than to turn off the internet.
However, we seem to closer to making the Internet our god. Not in the abstract way but the Internet surely dominates our way of life with a god-like presence. Without the Internet we would surely be hurtled to stone age again as switching to manual way of doing things would be too difficult.
Time to remember that the Internet can’t just be turned off… but it can/could be stopped, of course.