FEELING THAT GLITCH
IN YOUR GOOGLE APP
The mainstream news is always quick to point out fashion trends, pop culture trends and they are even bending over backwards saying that Ben Affleck will make a great Batman in the “Man of Steel” sequel, citing that Heath Ledger was also said to have been miscast as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.”
While that discussion is great for water cooler geek talk, there is another trend that the mainstream media has not picked up on: Internet shutdown.
That’s right, there seems to be this silent trend of major Internet companies experiencing shutdowns this past week.
Last Friday, August 16th, 2013, at approximate 5:00 PM pacific time, my radio network’s newsroom Internet crashed. This was a very serious situation since much of what Ground Zero uses – from sound, information and networking – comes directly from the Internet. Time is crucial for production and publishing and with the Internet down the show prep came to complete standstill.
Our tech engineers were scrambling to figure out why we were experiencing the outage. The glitch lasted approximately 12 minutes and briefly returned only to shut down again another 6 minutes.
In the middle of preparing for a show this time loss is like an eternity, and it was like there was a net quake and services just came to a screeching halt. Tech engineers could not find a problem and soon the Internet was back on track again.
During the weekend, it was reported that at 4:52 PM pacific time Google services went completely dark.
For people who have experienced Internet outages from independent providers and networks there might be the impression that this is normal or that the news is trivial; however, what was reported next was not normal and raised a few eyebrows for people who are concerned that the net can be switched off – or even attacked by hostile hackers from foreign countries. When Google crashed it took a huge portion of the Internet traffic with it.
According to an analytics company called Go Squared, during the outage global internet traffic dropped a whopping 40 %. This means that, as Internet users, our reliance on Google being online is important.
During the glitch that lasted approximately 1- 5 minutes, there was an estimated loss of half a million dollars in revenue.
If there is any doubt about how powerful Google has become and how much digital economy depends on it this would be a chilling indication.
This once again illustrates what happens when this much power is held in the hands of the few. One company experiences failure on the internet and the entire integrity of the net weakens.
On Monday, August 19th, 2013 Amazon crashed and was down for 30 minutes in the United States and Canada. This caused an estimated $5 million dollars in lost revenue. This figure was based on the fact that remarkably, Amazon takes in nearly $10,000 every five seconds. The cause of the glitch has not been reported.
On August 22nd, 2013, NASDAQ shut down trading for three hours because of yet another network failure.
Microsoft also was having their share of problems as their customers began to report email failures. The outage was traced to problems with the Exchange ActiveSync service which serves email to many of the world’s smart phones. When Exchange hit a glitch, the sheer volume of phones trying to connect triggered a ripple effect that took three days to control.
“Apple’s iCloud also suffered a blackout that affected a small number of its customers but lasted 11 hours.“ iCloud stores the collections of photos, music, documents and address books and were not accessible during the glitch.
It was after all of these crashes that warnings were given that governments, banks and big business are over-reliant on computer networks that use automation and that we may be seeing a data meltdown.
The Guardian points out the worry is that: “From high volume securities trading to the explosion in social media and the online consumption of entertainment, the amount of data being carried globally over the private networks, such as stock exchanges, and the public internet is placing unprecedented strain on websites and on the networks that connect them.”
However, there is also concern that secretly the Internet is glitching because of the recent revelations regarding NSA spying and the possibility that there have been Internet shutdown drills that provide some cyber paranoia regarding government shut downs in case of civil unrest.
Simultaneously, the entire Internet community is still obsessed with stories about the spying programs of the NSA. According to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, the national security spying octopus has its tentacles deep in the domestic telecommunications infrastructure.
While President Obama has downplayed the surveillance net in the United States, it is obvious that powerful companies like Google and others are great sources for data and resources that would cover the majority of Internet traffic for the United States.
This raises all kinds of questions about the vulnerability of the U.S. Internet infrastructure. The extent of the NSA snooping includes the cooperation of major internet companies that have installed software that that copies, scans and filters large amounts of the traffic that is exchanged in seconds.
The Wall Street Journal also reports that:
“The NSA, in conjunction with telecommunications companies, has built a system that can reach deep into the U.S. Internet backbone and cover 75% of traffic in the country, including not only metadata but the content of online communications. The report also explains how the NSA relies on probabilities, algorithms and filtering techniques to sift through the data and find information related to foreign intelligence investigations.”— What You Need to Know on New Details of NSA Spying August 20th, 2013
Now with this in mind we have to once again bring up the chilling reminder that with this much power in the hands of the few comes the dark reality of heavy-handed regulation of the Internet and, in some cases, switching it off in order to silence or curtail communication.
The idea of an Internet kill switch has always been a feared and tangible government option when there are debates over cyber security measures and the possibility of an Internet attack. Although legalese allowing the President to flip a figurative kill switch to shut down parts of the Internet have been removed from the cyber security debate, this does exclude the possibility that the government can’t get the word from the president to shut down or take over communications systems including the internet.
The White House still claims that the President has executive powers to shut down all communications under the law that created the FCC in 1934. This law states that if a “state of public peril or disaster or other national emergency” exists, the president may “authorize the use or control of any station or device.”
Many Internet experts have assured us that it would be virtually impossible for the governments of the United States and Europe to completely shut down the entire net.
This doesn’t mean that governments aren’t seeking ways to find communication system overrides in case of national emergencies.
Incidentally, a story that was published in the Tampa Tribune indicates that the military is now seeking a system that can override and control AM and FM radio transmissions in case of a natural disaster – or if areas under bio-chemical or tactical nuke attack in the United States become areas of battlefield operations.
The radio broadcast system would allow those caught in disasters to know where to get medical care, water and food. However, according to the military, the system would be used for Psychological Operations or Psy-ops overseas. The military is not allowed to use the system for psy-ops domestically.
The military assured the press that the system override would not be used for nefarious purposes however in a combat situation it would most certainly be used to encourage compliance to military objectives. These control proposals only work for the short term and there can be pirated radio signals that can be broadcast within hours and within a short time Internet geeks would be able to create internet islands with filtered access to the rest of the net that is functioning.
Maintaining outages in the United States and Europe would be a hard task for any government. However, that does not mean they wouldn’t consider trying it and that the security apparatus would not be able to locate any computer geek that would be willing to risk starting up a network with a gun pointed at his head.
We have seen how Egypt and Syria have been able to shut down Internet access in their countries and China announced that they have the power to shut down the net if they feel the necessity.
This poses the question as to whether or not the government of the United States would risk the economic set back and shut down the Internet in cases of perceived national security breaches.
It could be as easy as having the NSA or another government agency demand that Verizon, AT&T any other major communication company to turn off wireless IP routing. There is also the option for governments to order Comcast or Time Warner and other Internet Service Providers to shut down their networks as well.
However, there would be a way to find internet service using college ISP’s and also there are companies that have multiple ISP’s that may not have been ordered to shut down. Needless to say, if any of these horror stories took place it would be a tricky endeavor to find Internet service and have it be useful.
A full service shutdown would take the collusion of major carriers and the government and there would be the question of whether or not it is legal. An Internet shutdown could only be legal if the country was under martial law.
This opens a whole new can of worms where civil liberty issues become digital liberty issues that for now are still vague and become completely worthless if the United States government perceives that it is under threat and the rule of law gets thrown out in the process.