Two ways to destroy the web: hack it or cut it
It was a pretty formative time in the mainstream use of the Web, an exciting time to surf: content was being uploaded onto proto-websites at an impossible rate. But impressively, less than a decade after the hypertext prototcol was knocked together, it was becoming an indispensable part of our lives.
And then one day it broke.
I remember it perfectly; people were freaking out, businesses were panicking, pulling out their old fax machines and trying to remember how they worked. Commerce slowed down and communication chugged. It had only been a short while that AOL had worked its way into the fabric of our lives, but its absence was utterly devastating.
Oh how exciting.
I realised that day how vulnerable we had already become. What if the plug was pulled? What if the Web disappeared? What on earth would happen?
That was almost 15 years ago, and since that time, we have become even more invested in Web technology. It has become part of our lives in the most incredible ways. It is our commerce, our security, our health service, our politics. And that makes us - and the systems that keep social order - even more vulnerable.
There have been very few instances of nation-on-nation cyber attacks, but those that have occurred have hinted at the new possibilities for real disruption. There appear to be two pathways: the soft and hard attacks.
Here's an example of a nation-level soft attack: on 27 April 2007, Estonia's communication was disabled by cyber-attack that was alleged to be actuated by Russia. Angry at the removal of a Soviet war monument, Estonia's websites were bombarded with so many false requests from a botnet that they were offline for a fortnight.
I haven't heard about any hard attacks yet. By these, I mean attacks that do something physical to the systems. I do remember hearing several years ago about a carbon-based explosive that detonated above ground and rained carbon filaments onto circuit boards, jamming their connections and rendering the systems helpless. And then there was the rather embarrassing situation in the Middle East, when a ship's anchor accidentally cut the offshore cables that connected the Middle East, Egypt and India to the Internet: that could foreshadow a method that someone might take to disable a part of the Web.
I'm interested in the safety features put in place: networks have work-arounds, of course, to cope with over-loads. But, like the four apocryphal locations in London that, if attacked, would disable the capital and bring down the UK, I wonder if there are any places the Web may be most susceptible.
After all, we rely so much on it, it would be a shame to lose it.
Let us know anything you've heard about potential weaknesses in the system. For example, are the Google Maps of root servers a potential security breach? What about the Cloud, that memory system in the sky, that has proven vulnerable in the past? Are there security guards patrolling the beaches where the Web comes onshore, or are we relying on the faith that we'd see any potential attackers if they got that close?
Let us know your theories (based on facts, of course) and we'll see if we can work them into the show.