As you may have heard, this week saw a historic cyber attack on a single company called Spamhaus. If you’d like some background about why Spamhaus was targeted, here’s a great article. But, in case you just want summary: the attackers feel that Spamhause is an Internet bully and decided to take action. They have targeted bogus Internet traffic at the company in hopes of knocking it offline. The attack was so massive that Internet slowdowns were reported all around the world.
Next, there was some news you might not have heard but is equally important. In Egypt, on the same day the news hit about the cyber attack, three divers were arrested for trying to cut an undersea Internet cable. This cable, which runs under the Mediterranean, connects Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Western Europe. Because of the damage, Internet traffic was slowed, but has now been restored.
These news stories made me step back from my screen a moment and contemplate the fragility of the Internet. And, interestingly, brought an old Wired article to mind that was published in 1996: Mother Earth Mother Board.
This story chronicles the laying of, what was at the time anyway, the longest and best Internet cable on earth. The author traveled across three continents to follow and document the wire’s path. In so doing, he discusses not only some of the history of the Internet, but also the cultures and history of the areas the wire crosses and touches. I highly recommend putting it on your Instapaper reading list.
Why did this article pop to mind? Because it highlights, in many ways, what a very earthly endeavor the Internet really is. We tend to talk about “cyberspace” and emails getting “lost in the ether” as if the Internet wasn’t a real, concrete thing. Okay, if you’re doing some landscaping you might think about the wires (please do call 811 before you dig), but when’s the last time you really thought about how the Internet gets across the ocean? Or across mountains, deserts, and plains? I’m betting not very often. The Wired article takes you there, and beyond.
It reminds me that while the Internet has simply become a way of life, at the heart of all our new technologies are actual, physical (cuttable) wires…and the (highly imperfect) humans connected by them. In the end, I guess technology isn’t quite as abstract as we think it is. And, perhaps the Internet is only as strong as those who use it.