Can the internet crash? How the unthinkable could happen

Can the internet crash? How the unthinkable could happen

Even if we set aside natural disasters, cosmic blasts and coding glitches, we still have at least one other major threat to worry about. This is the scenario that is most popular in sci-fi films, high-tech thrillers, and pop culture in general. What if a hacker or group of hackers – state-sponsored or otherwise – actually figured out a way to disable the entire internet? What if someone develops a brand-new kind of virus, a chunk of mutant code that we can’t even imagine at this point? Levinson calls it the Evil Genius problem. 

“Now this is highly unlikely, but it’s not impossible,” Levinson says. “But there is always a chance that some devious hacking group figures out a way to bring down the internet and all the backup systems that provide redundancy.”

Once again, conventional wisdom tells us that there is simply no way this could happen; that the very architecture of the internet would prevent such a viral doomsday event. But a bedrock principle of computer security, Levinson says, is that you never say never. And you always prepare for the worst.

“Look, my best guess is that, at this point, no one knows how to bring down the whole internet, or even any significant part of it,” he says. “But it’s foolhardy not to speculate about what could happen. The very process of speculation can reveal weaknesses in the system.”

Can the internet crash? How the unthinkable could happen

Even if we set aside natural disasters, cosmic blasts and coding glitches, we still have at least one other major threat to worry about. This is the scenario that is most popular in sci-fi films, high-tech thrillers, and pop culture in general. What if a hacker or group of hackers – state-sponsored or otherwise – actually figured out a way to disable the entire internet? What if someone develops a brand-new kind of virus, a chunk of mutant code that we can’t even imagine at this point? Levinson calls it the Evil Genius problem. 

“Now this is highly unlikely, but it’s not impossible,” Levinson says. “But there is always a chance that some devious hacking group figures out a way to bring down the internet and all the backup systems that provide redundancy.”

Once again, conventional wisdom tells us that there is simply no way this could happen; that the very architecture of the internet would prevent such a viral doomsday event. But a bedrock principle of computer security, Levinson says, is that you never say never. And you always prepare for the worst.

“Look, my best guess is that, at this point, no one knows how to bring down the whole internet, or even any significant part of it,” he says. “But it’s foolhardy not to speculate about what could happen. The very process of speculation can reveal weaknesses in the system.”

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