the discussion in class on tuesday (in particular, on getting lost and the technological unconscious + the galloway and thacker paper on networks) made me think of two recent stories in the news about countries being involuntarily “unplugged” from the web…
WW1.0 (web war I)
there’s an interesting article by joshua davis in WIRED MAGAZINE: ISSUE 15.09 about how hackers took down estonia’s web/technology based commerce, media, and government in the end of april 2007 by launching a coordinated attack on the country’s electronic infrastructure. a teaser from the article…
“Väärsi tried to pull up his competitors’ Web sites. They were down as well. He knew he had only one choice: to sever the international connection. He keyed in a few lines of code and pressed Enter — and all international requests to the paper were suddenly blocked. In the eyes of the world, the Postimees Web site disappeared.
Instantaneously, the bandwidth meter turned green. The site became accessible again within Estonia, but at a cost. Estonia’s leading news outlet could not tell the world what was going on in its own country. Though this was a 21st-century attack, Väärsi used the same defense Estonia had used against Russian invasions four centuries earlier: He had closed the gates, pulled up the ramparts, and settled in for a siege.”
the article has an in depth discussion of how the attack was coordinated, but in short it consisted of script kiddies — “troublemakers” who copied scripts from hacker sites that launched floods of ping queries to specific web targets, botnets – individual “zombie” PCs that were compromised by malicious code (i.e. a virus) and were under the control of hackers-> used to send large amounts of data to specific internet addresses with the goal of overwhelming the site (a “distributed denial of service” (DDoS)), and hackers who attacked specific targets to alter their content (i.e. to change the home page of a website to a desired political message).
IT specialists countered the botnet attacks by disconnecting infected computers (by sending requests to ISPs to suspend service), but according to the article, they were unsuccessful in identifying the coordinators of the attacks (though recent political events pointed to a suspect). the botnet attack stopped after two weeks.
in the end of january, 2 undersea web/telecommunication cables were cut in the mediterranean knocking out a good portion of the area’s connectivity. as discussed by the the economist, countries were able to reroute traffic to a certain degree, but
“Egypt lost 70% of its internet connectivity immediately. More than half of western India’s outbound capacity crashed, messing up the country’s outsourcing industry. Over the next few days, as cable operators sought new routes, 75m people from Algeria to Bangladesh saw internet links disrupted or cut off.”
i think both events demonstrate potential vulnerabilities of the web as a networked system… in one case, knocking out an edge in the mediterranean disrupted service for 75 million users, and in another, a coordinated/infected group of nodes (hundreds of thousands of infected computers) + hackers were able to disrupt ~1.3 million estonian’s web/telecommunication with the outside world. to return to rita’s question about whether or not it’s still possible to get lost in modern society (that’s how i remember the question two days later in any case) i think that if users have their identity/location based in/on the system, then knocking out the system would probably result in some people getting lost.