How Hard Is It To Turn Off the Internet?


Here's a very interesting piece that follows on our post yesterday about the cyber fight in Egypt. We focused on the angle of U.S. companies moving to circumvent government control of Internet access and what this could mean around the world.

Now, CNN is asking; could the U.S. shut down the Internet?

The short answer, not really. It would be very difficult to shut down all U.S. Internet traffic from both a logistical -- due to the number of Internet providers and users -- and, more importantly, legal standpoint.

"They're all businesses. Their autonomy is sort of their bread and butter. And they're mostly unregulated. So the idea of having to comply fully with any government order to shut them off is pretty extreme. It's as if there were a government order to close every McDonald's -- all at once."

A country's legal framework, not its technical infrastructure, determines whether it is able to shut down its citizens' access to the Internet, said Cowie.

"It really comes down to the fact that somebody has to have the legal authority to go to a company that runs a large part of the internet in the United States and say, 'Turn off your connection to the outside world.' "

However, as CNET reports, three U.S. senators have submitted legislation to give the president emergency powers over the internet in the event of a cyberattack or other disaster scenario.

On Wednesday, the bill's authors tried to distance themselves from what's happened in Egypt, issuing a statement:

"Our bill already contains protections to prevent the president from denying Americans access to the Internet -- even as it provides ample authority to ensure that those most critical services that rely on the Internet are protected."

It goes on to say that even when governments try to shut down web access, the net is so decentralized and therefore, redundant, that it makes killing Internet service like playing one giant game of Whack-A-Mole.
Shutting down the global internet would be more of a trick, requiring a level of global coordination that would be extremely unlikely if not impossible, the experts said.
"If you really wanted to turn off the global internet, you'd have to seek out people on every continent and every country," said Cowie from Renesys. "The internet is so decentralized that there is no kill switch."
"No you can't do that," said Harvard's Faris. "The internet is designed to be robust. Certain links break and then other links are opened."
In Egypt, for example, people who couldn't access the broadband internet were able to place international phone calls to Europe to log on to dial-up internet service, he said, which, of course, operates on phone lines.
Here's the CNN piece. Show Full Article

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