There are imminent threats facing the Internet and online communications which can lead to the internet shutdown, disruption to internet-based communications, and damage to internet-connected devices. Human error, government intervention, and cyberattacks are among the top causes.
According to Access Now, there were at least 213 incidents of internet shutdowns in 2019 around the world which is an increase from 196 internet incidents in 2018 and 106 in 2017. In many countries, government ordered internet shut downs have become the “new normal.” Although governments around the world cause forced Internet shutdowns and disruptions in many cases to silence critics, consequences of cyberattacks to control or damage internet-connected machines are unimaginable.
In early 2020, it was reported that Israel launched a cyberattack on the Iranian nuclear site which caused a huge fire damage, and in response, Iranians launched a counterattack on the Israeli water supplies to increase the amount of chlorine entered into the drinking water which could have made a big part of the population sick if the attack was not thwarted.
Before diving further into scenarios involving internet shutdown, lets understand what the Internet is and how it works.
The Internet Infrastructure
Internet is a broad term for a network of globally interconnected computers communicating with one another. The Internet (interconnected networks) is also referred to as the World Wide Web. The Internet has existed since 1969 which has gradually developed from four host computers to millions of computer systems. Although no one owns the Internet per se, a non-profit group by the name of Internet Society was formed in 1992 to monitor and maintain the Internet.
The internet structure comprises of many networks interconnected with one another. Access to the extensive network is managed by a group of network service providers (NSP) which sell Internet backbone access or bandwidth to internet service providers (ISP) which usually access the NSPs network access points (NAPs). These providers work with one another to exchange packet traffics. Each Network Service Provider requires a connection to at least three Network Access Point (NAPs). The NAPs packets might jump from one NSP backbone to another NSP backbone.
The Internet Service provider (ISP)
If you have a computer at home or workplace, then you probably have an internet connection. To access the Internet and other computers in the network, you must get connected through an internet service provider (ISP). Most companies have their points of presence (POPs) connecting them to various regions. A POP is the point where users can access the network. ISPs are connected through Network Access Points (NAPs).
To access the Internet, you need a computer along with:
- A modem
- A telephone line for dial up access or cable line
- An Internet browser and ISP connection software
- An internet Service Provider (ISP) account
A modem also called “modulator-demodulator” is a hardware component that connects your home device, computer or network to the Internet.
A router connects your home computer and other IoT devices to each other. Routers also act as the Internet cops controlling flow of data packets and communication from one computer to another. Routers protect one network from the other. They ensure that all computers with internet access can connect safely.
Every machine or device using the Internet has an identifying number. This number is the IP Address. IP stands for internet protocol which is a pre-defined requirement for communication over the Internet. An IP address typically looks like this; 126.96.36.199. These numbers refer to the Octets, the Net, and Host.
Domain Name System (DNS)
Wisconsin’s university created the domain name system in 1983. It’s a system that automatically maps text names to the IP address. That way, you only need to remember the name. An example of DNS is www.google.com corresponding to an IP address such as 188.8.131.52
Internet Shut Down Causes
Human error, government intervention, and cyberattacks are significant causes of internet disruption globally. Despite many security measures in place, hacking attempts still cause significant damage. One of the ways hackers attack is by targeting a system with denial -of- service attacks which makes the system or website unavailable.
Human Error in Network Disruptions
Human error is a factor in network outages. It is estimated that at least 25% of the network disruption is caused by human error. The following is a list of errors made by humans:
- Change management – When network changes are not tested properly; it leads to a network outage in 44% of cases.
- Manual dependence – most IT teams manage how the network is generally designed and operating. However, a mistake on their part will lead to a network outage.
- Resolution time- How long do IT experts take to repair faulty Internet connection? Several reports indicate they take too long to respond, hence more extended periods of an internet outage.
Internet Hacking and Cyber Attack Methods
There are several methods which hackers can use to bring the Internet down:
- Malware – These are various forms of malicious software that can be installed to harm a computer and its owner. Hackers use them for hacking, controlling, and monitoring everything that goes on in the computer.
- Phishing – The attackers use malicious attachments and links that users typically consider legitimate and when they click a link or an attachment, they expose their computers to dangerous programs and harm.
- SQL injection attack – It’s a Structured Query Language used in the program database. The hackers use it by exploiting vulnerable SQL, allowing the server to run the malicious codes. Using the code, they can access account usernames and passcodes.
- Cross-site scripting – This involves injecting malicious code into a website. The hackers use this to access information on the website, which they can also change to whatever they want.
No matter how the Internet is disrupted, such interruptions can be significant in terms of financial cost and human life. They can inflict enormous blow to both individuals and businesses. Governments and organizations must work together to mitigate the risks of Internet shutdown by preventing attacks as well as detecting, and responding to incidents quickly.