[ExI] Someone Is Learning How to Take Down the Internet

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Sun Sep 25 10:00:18 UTC 2016

On 2016-09-24 21:10, William Flynn Wallace wrote:
> Now our entire economy will not function without it.  We definitely 
> need some kind of workaround if some commie figures out how to do 
> massive simultaneous DoS attacks.
> spike
> Is there any way of knowing which other countries could not function 
> either?  I thought the web was backed up a googleplex of times.

No, first the web is not backed up. The closest is archive.org, which is 
a private foundation in San Francisco storing things on tape. There are 
some national libraries doing partial copies of their own domains, but 
much of it is half-hearted.

Second, it is not the web that matters. It is the communications 
infrastructure. This email gets to you through the Internet. So does 
withdrawing money from an ATM. So does buying oil for your company. So 
does proving that you even work for your company at the keycard reader.

The problem is basically that a lot of our supply chains now depend on 
the internet. Nobody truly understands what parts could have a 
non-internet substitute, since the internet dependency might exist in a 
small but important subsystem. Most phones run on backbones that may or 
may not be dependent. The Swift credit infrastructure presumably has its 
own backbone up to a point, but it is meshed with internet systems. A 
lot of smart devices (now including cars) may have vulnerabilities to 
the wrong kind of outages. And even if supply chain A works fine, it 
might depend on supply chain B working. If credit payments become 
impossible, it soon does not matter if there is gas in the gas station, 
you can't buy it.

Presumably different countries can handle internet outages differently 
well. Poorer countries where the infrastructure is old will be locally 
fine, but of course vulnerable to external shocks due to their poverty. 
Countries with a strong civil society and high trust can handle much 
more (during the Irish bank strike in the 60s people used IOUs to trade 
for months). The places where real trouble would strike are complex 
societies relying on formal rules, with key infrastructure dependencies 
(e.g. energy, water in cold or dry areas), and with lower trust ratings.

Dr Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Oxford University

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