What Would It Take to Shut Down the Entire Internet?

Giz Asks, In this Gizmodo series, ask questions about everything from space to butts and get answers from a variety of experts. The question is “contemplated what might happen if the entire internet shut down at once?”

Laura Brandimarte

Assistant Professor, Management Information Systems, University of Arizona
Everything being connected today may bring along significant convenience, but it also implies that everything can be hacked. What if the nation’s power grid were successfully attacked? No electricity also means no internet access.

Ryan T. Wright

Associate Professor of Commerce and Associate Director of the Center for Management of IT at the University of Virginia, whose research focuses on the human elements of cybersecurity, among other things
First, it is highly unlikely that the internet could be universally shutdown. Internet infrastructure consists of several redundant connections that make it near impossible to bring down the entire internet unintentionally or accidentally. Internet traffic is resilient and can dynamically reroute around any problems.  Bad actors would be the most plausible reason for an internet outage. Two critical internet systems that could, if attacked or exploited, bring down the internet are BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) and
DNS (domain name system).  BGP is used to route traffic on the internet.

  • There have been several attacks that hijacked BGP to reroute traffic, thus breaking the internet.

DNS resolve web addresses such as www.gizmodo.com to the Internet Protocol (IP) address, much like a phonebook can be used to look up a telephone number.

  • Bringing down the root DNS servers would disable the ability to lookup IP addresses and therefore “break” the Internet.
  • The attack on Dyn’s DNS servers is an example of an attack on DNS servers that brought down the internet for a portion of the US.

The good news is these critical systems are widely known as points of failure for the internet and therefore, heavily monitored.

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