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Greg’s bite: what happens if the Internet is turned off?

By Greg Mills

The Internet has become so intwined into the infrastructure of our lives and business that the thought of it going down is hard to imagine. When the electricity goes off during a storm, there is a sudden realization that many of the things we take for granted don’t work without power.  

An interruption in power for even a few hours is hard, but power off for a few days or weeks is intolerable. Food goes bad, houses freeze or get so hot they are intolerable, and other unforeseen issues pop up. Gas pumps need power to even fill up a car. 

The Internet going down won’t be so immediately disruptive for home users as a power loss, but commerce and industry will be hard hit in ways we can’t fully anticipate. So much of the world of electronics is hooked up by way of the Internet we can’t imagine the havoc that may occur.  Power switching system, rail controls, military command and control systems, industrial systems and obscure mechanisms that support our way of life all work through the Internet. Banking and stock market mechanisms are directly related to Internet services. What happens if they all go down at the same time? What happens when the cloud crashes?

The government is currently working on passing a new law that would allow the President to declare an emergency and literally turn the Internet off. Since the Internet has never been completely rebooted, the effect is hard to fully anticipate. The Stuxnet worm, that has been shown to be capable of diabolical things in the real world may just be a prototype for fresh cyber horrors to come. That is part of the rational for such a plan.   

Recently, it has been made clear that the Iranian nuclear reactor may never be turned on due to the likelihood it is sabotaged to the extent that a Chernobyl event times 100 may result. The Russians have warned Iran that disaster may occur if they fire it up. The Russians have received billions of dollars for helping Iran build the reactor and now are telling Iran it is unsafe to use.  

Beyond Stuxnet, physical sabotage may be undetectable until it is too late. No wonder the US and Israel allowed the Iranians to load the nuclear reactor with plutonium rods; they knew it would blow up if actually turned on. Fear of industrial sabotage in the US is powering the hysteria.

The uprising in Egypt, which caused the authorities to kill the Internet in that country is an example we will see examined in detail, after the net is restored there. What back-up systems failed? What damage has been done to business systems? And Egypt is small potatoes compared to the United States electronically.  

The Internet was invented here, and we control most of the servers that route all internet traffic worldwide.  If the US pulls the plug on the Internet, the consequences may be felt around the world in unforeseen ways.  

Philosophically, does a democracy-based government have the moral right to shut off the Internet and mobile communications to protect itself from its own people? While an external threat might justify such a move to protect power grids, nuclear reactors, financial markets and military infrastructure from outside threats, the Egyptians are defending themselves from their own people by preventing collaboration and a free press. That shouldn’t happen here under similar conditions.  

That’s Greg’s bite for today.

(Greg Mills is currently a Faux Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. He’s working on a solar energy startup using a patent pending process of turning waste dual pane glass into thermal solar panels used to heat water. Married, with one daughter still at home, Greg writes for intellectual web sites and Mac related issues. See Greg’s web sites at http://www.gregmills.info . He can be emailed at gregmills.mac.)

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