Getting Real about Internet Realpolitik

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There’s sound, healthy skepticism about crazy conspiracy theories (“George Bush paid Mossad to blow up the Pentagon with a missile and make believe it was a plane”). Then there’s plain stupidity. People dismissing speculation about what caused the backbone cable cuts leading to massive outages in the Middle East and India as “tinfoil hat thinking” are massively deluded about how nation states behave. (Fun way to know for sure it happened in the first place: a former World of Warcraft guildmate located in Bahrain told us he had huge latency for days). I have no idea who’s behind these cuts, but there’s just very little chance it’s a bunch of unrelated accidents. The most ludicrous theory is that it was just the unfortunate result of trailing anchors.
Take this from someone two degrees from the people who sunk the Rainbow Warrior: this stuff does happen outside of movies. My father in law is an engineer at the DGA defense procurement agency while my father is a retired Army officer. What we were told when we grew up was: “I’m not telling you details about what I know and what I’m working on so that bad people can’t get information out of you.” It shapes and informs your view of the world! Part of it was specific to the Cold War, but terrorist threats were also hanging over Western Europe since the 70’s in various shapes and forms.
It’s funny to see people thinking they’re being all smart and educated and rational actually demonstrating one thing: they don’t know jack about what they’re talking about and are very, very naive. Yes, people are spouting all sorts of nonsense on the internet. Yes, you want to ignore most of it as idle speculation or even outright stupidity. No, it doesn’t mean everything is fine and dandy out there.
Bottom line is, after massive virus outbreaks these past few years, attacks against Estonia last year and now this, we think the chances that a massive Internet slowdown lasting weeks might happen in the next five years is not insignificant. I don’t want to pull a Bob Metcalfe on you, but we’re looking at what parts of our business may be made resilient to such an event. It may come from states, terrorists, organized crime, bored teens, or a combination of the above. If you’re managing servers I’m sure you’re routinely getting pounded by DDOS and scraping and all sorts of crazy behavior just like we are. This ain’t fun.
The Internet is designed for resilience, but if you look at backbone maps, there are failure points and the liability is there that the whole thing is made barely functional for significant lengths of time. You don’t even need to blow all interconnection points. Once you’ve removed some of them, the rest can slow down to a crawl through bottleneck effects. In theory you’re still connected. In practice all you get is time outs, you can forget about using web apps, let alone VOIP or streaming video. Maybe you can get load a 30kb web page once in a while. Not the end of the world, but a tough ride if 100% of your income is based on the assumption of smooth, fast, always-on broadband everywhere. The fact companies such as Google have their eyes on the backbone may in part be a hedge against such doom scenarios.

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