A few years ago, my colleague Susan Hall posed the question: Is Internet downtime more frequent these days, or does it just seem that way?
Unfortunately, the cyber infrastructure that causes all that Internet downtime hasn't improved much since Hall's initial query, but our dependence on the Internet has increased to the point where these outages, caused by a flaw that has been discussed for a dozen years and that can be easily hacked, could shut down government and businesses, or worse.
According to an article in The Washington Post, written by Peter Svensson:
The outages are caused by the somewhat haphazard way that traffic is passed between companies that carry Internet data. The outages are called "hijackings," even though most of them are not caused by criminals bent on destruction. Instead the outages are a problem borne out of the open nature of the Internet, a quality that also has stimulated the Net's dazzling growth.
More often than not, these outages are more of an annoyance than anything else. Some recent hijackings include:
- February 2008: Pakistan Telecom hijacks YouTube, affecting much of the world.
- April 2010: China Telecom, the country's largest ISP, hijacks the Internet, causing outages spreading to Europe and the United States.
Until the flaw is fixed, it remains a hole waiting for a hacker to exploit. However, it might not be an easy fix. As was reported at the recent cybersecurity summit, technology might be evolving too fast for security efforts on the cyber infrastructure to keep up.