In just 40 years, our whole civilization has become dependent on the Internet, in more ways than we could count. So when you hear activist groups threatening to crash the whole thing, or doomsday preppers warning of a global Internet failure, it's pretty scary.
But could someone actually bring the entire Internet down? We asked an expert.
Taking down the Internet is a lot easier said than done, according to IT expert Dewayne Hendricks, and the Internet is very much here to stay. Known as the "Broadband Cowboy," Hendricks has worked with AT&T, Cisco, WorldCom, and Lucent, and is currently CEO of Tetherless Access Inc.
"The first thing you need to know about the Internet," Hendricks tells io9, "is that there is no such thing as ‘the' Internet."
Simple, independent, and distributed
The Internet, says Hendricks, is "merely a series of highly distributed packet switchers." Most people get this wrong, he argues. "People tend to think it's this one thing — and it's not — it's important to get this idea across that it's thousands of independently owned and operated networks — networks that are tied together by physical connections that use a common protocol."
It's this very quality that has endowed the Internet with the capacity to not just remain live and active under extreme circumstances, but to repair itself and adapt when necessary. Taking the Internet down, therefore, is very much like trying to herd cats. It's essentially a network of networks.
And indeed, there has been some speculation about what it would take to bring down the entire Internet. Earlier this year, Gizmodo's Sam Biddle made a heroic effort at trying to figure out how to destroy the Internet, suggesting that it could be done (however unlikely) by cutting all the cables that bind the Internet together, ruining the root servers, and destroying all the data centers. Assuming this could be done, all the world's digital data would be left frozen on local machines. "Nothing can get anywhere, because all the roads, bridges, and traffic lights are in ruin," Biddle writes, "All that's left of the Internet is your office intranet, or the file-swapping in your dorm. The tiny shreds. There are nets, but none of them are inter."