The Fragile Internet
While many of you may not have noticed and most news outlets seem to be ignoring the issue, there is a cyberwar going on right now. The obvious question is whether the recent outages here at NicaLiving have been a result of that cyberwar. Collateral damage as the military likes to say. At this point I don't know and I may never know but it certainly is possible.
The big players in the cyberwar started with a Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack on WikiLeaks. That attack is huge with numbers of 10Gb/second going around and has been going on for a week. The attack is likely the result of WikiLeaks releasing information on Trapwire, a giant US taxpayer-funded security system. As far as I can see there is nothing released that would compromise the system, just information which shows the extent that ex-CIA and other ex-government employees have created a new way to make a lot of money off taxpayers that had no idea it was happening.
The followup to this attack is a counter-attack of those have wronged WikiLeaks. In our capitalist world, wronged generally means cutting into someone's income stream. The only place I have found the counter-attack documented is the BBC. In the article it points out that Visa and MasterCard have been targets because they refused to handle donations for WikiLeaks.
I could continue the story but there are lots of sources of this information. The fact that there are currently over 1.5 million followers of the WikiLeaks Twitter Feed means things are being watched. There are also ways to access WikiLeeks mirrors using Tor and even the entire content of what WikiLeaks has released in a 30GB compressed file iis available via bittorrent. In other words, information continues to be available but at a higher cost both in terms of money and technical skills.
So, What's Fragile?
The story above is about the current war. What it has done is shown that what we take for granted, the Internet, is subject to interruption and control. To take the NicaLiving story, I have been monitoring our server. There has been no DDOS attack on it. (You can see this by going to MonosMedia.com. If you can get there, our server is fine. But, the databases used for NicaLiving, A42 and some other experimental sites are on a shared machine. I don't know who the other users of that machine are but if they were being subjected to any sort of attack, our sites would become a victim.
Moving up a notch, if you are using the same hosting company as someone being attacked, it is possible people could not get to your web pages because the attack chewed up all the bandwidth for the hosting company. Much like we all have to share the same planet, we all have to share the same Internet. While the Internet is distributed which eliminates a single point of failure breaking a substantial portion, a lot of it travels through common paths. Much like the electric grid, a failure in one part can put additional strain on other parts which buckle under the abnormal load.
While these cyberwars are going to help us fortify the whole system, there are going to be casualties along the way. Today's casualty is WikiLeaks and, for a while, Visa and MasterCard. That has shown us that the Internet is fragile. Let's hope the cure doesn't involve additional crackdowns on freedom of speech, in the name of protecting you.