The day the Internet Stopped

On July 4th 2008 the frogmen of the Global Privacy Alliance cut TATnn and Helvetica, removing 80% of currently operational Internet capacity between the United States and Europe. Simultaneously they struck PCn and PACnn, with similar effect on trans-Pacific capability …

Those who had long been muttering about the surveillance society, whether governments or pay-per-click advertising services, finally struck back – on Independence day – cutting the submarine cables that linked America with the rest of the world – blinding those who they believed were monitoring their every e-mail or websearch – and also taking off-air all those who relied on US server farms or switching centres .

The reality is that the recent cable failures are only the latest in a series that have, on occasion, crippled parts of the global Internet for hours or days (in at least one case taking a nations centralised hospital systems’ and medical records off-air) while standby routings are opened up, if available, and the ships of a dozen cable fleets steam to the rescue.

Meawhile the ability of the Pakistani censors to cut access to Youtube worldwide, not just locally, has brought about a sudden flurry of activity as others rush to check whether their systems and sites are similarly vulnerable.

Intra-UK communications are similarly vulnerable. Most of us connect to the Internet via a single point of failure, the local BT exchange through which all those unbundled lines and many mobile networks are routed – hence the pressure on the EURIM E-Crime group to include resilience in the Information Assurance stream of the partnership programmes that are due to be announced next week.

Resilience may not be top of the list of areas for action on the part of the global Internet Governance Forum but “security” was top of the list of priorities for those who attended the pre-Rio consultation meetings in the UK.

Meanwhile 47% of the 353 communications managers (representing a combined communications spend of £13 billion) who responded to the CMA “Communications in Business Survey” (due to be released this morning) “were primarily focussed in [sic] ensuring the continuity of critical business systems and processes.” And 6% of the organistions represented said that security and continuity was currently their main current business objective – even above revenue growth, improved processes or attracting and retaining customers.

Next week sees the first UK Internet Governance Forum, intended to enable the UK to demonstrate that co-operation produces better results, faster, than legislation. It will be interesting to see if the issues of resilience come up – now that 21st Century Society has become critically reliant on a network that has “more bottlenecks than a brewery”.