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Sometimes, the Internet just breaks

We tend to think of the Internet as part of a virtual world — cyberspace — in which battle is continuously being waged between hackers and defenders using the 1s and 0s of binary code. It’s easy to forget that the Internet relies on a physical infrastructure that can break.

As Ted Stevens, Alaska’s late Republican senator, famously pointed out, the Internet is a series of tubes. When one of them breaks, your Internet connection can go dark.

The latest State of the Internet report from Akamai noted a concerted wave of distributed denial of service attacks in the third quarter of last year, some producing traffic levels as high as 65 gigabits/sec. But it also noted four disruptions in that quarter that really did break the Internet, at least temporarily, but which probably had nothing to do with DDOS attacks.

Lebanon suffered an outage last July that took the country virtually offline for several hours and that was attributed to problems with a submarine cable in the Mediterranean between Lebanon and Cyprus on which it depends for Internet connectivity. Lebanon reportedly has plans for a second submarine cable to provide more bandwidth and back-up connectivity, but it has not yet appropriated money for it.

A month later, Jordan saw sharp drops in its Internet connectivity, the result of what reportedly was a cut in the power supply to the country’s main Internet service provider. An Internet blackout in Syria in July apparently was a denial of service attack, but that appears to have been carried out by Syria’s own government when local Internet provider networks routed through the state-affiliated Syrian Telecommunications Establishment were removed from the global routing table. This brief outage was neither the first nor the last time the government effectively pulled the plug on the nation’s Internet.

The most high-profile outage last year was at Go Daddy, the Internet registrar and Web hosting company, which in September was knocked out for five hours, leaving as many as 54 million domain names unavailable. The hacktivist collective Anonymous quickly claimed credit, but Go Daddy blamed it on internal network problems that corrupted router data tables, eventually exhausting its resources. In other words, a self-inflicted denial of service.

Not every outage is an attack. Sometimes a tube breaks.

Posted by William Jackson on Jan 30, 2013 at 9:39 AM


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