Disaster Strikes! What Happens if the Internet Vanishes for a Day?

The internet has grown and now dominates every aspect of our world. This reliance, including daily tasks, work requirements, paying bills, and sending friends money, has led many to wonder what would happen if the internet went down for a day.

We’ve scoured many resources, including top internet security professionals, futurists, and other experts to figure out what would happen if the internet went down.

Determining the Internet Doomsday Scenario

The most important factor when trying to determine what would happen if the internet went down, is if people knew it was only going to be out for 24 hours in advance, or if it went down and then came back on after being out for 24 hours.

For the purpose of this article we’re going to assume the internet goes down without it being planned as some type of internet refresh. Partly because most people, especially those who receive and are expected to read and respond to emails throughout the day, would love a planned 24 hours with no internet.

Plus, some experts, such as Scott Borg of the United States Cyber Consequences Unit, found that the immediate economic impact for short term internet outages actually wasn’t that severe.

Of course, this was based on a per company level and not for widespread internet outages and the associated levels of panic that would ensue. However, his findings revealed that if every company turned off their computers for a few hours each month, it might help employees perform tasks that they continually put off and might actually lead to an increase in productivity.

How Would People React if the Internet Went Down for a Day?

To keep our scenario simple, we’re going to imagine that the internet went down starting at midnight EST and lasted exactly 24 hours.

The Early Morning

The first people to experience the downed internet would be the night owls, who suddenly notice their favorite apps stopped working. When they switch to Google, that too seems to be down as if they’re going through a tunnel. Plus, as many homes now stream their television services, these streaming apps would show error messages as well.

Common Reactions

During the rest of the early morning hours, into the point when the early birds rise, people all across the country would be:

  • Unplugging routers, modems, televisions, computers and plugging them back in
  • Calling tech support even though many wouldn’t be open yet
  • Bring their phones outside to see if there’s better reception or internet access out there

Of course, there are some people that would just ignore it and chalk it up to a power outage. After all, the power wouldn’t be on because systems communicate through the internet. Others, albeit a much smaller group, would chalk it up to the fact that they hadn’t paid their bill and move on with their day.

Panic?

As many normal routines became disrupted, there are many who would panic, especially when they couldn’t go their favorite news source or to Twitter or other social media channels to find out what was happening.

In the morning, some of these people would call work to see if the internet worked there or they’d call friends and family to see if they were experiencing the same things. Some others would race to the bank to try to take money out of the ATM, but they wouldn’t work either.

Should they wait for the bank to open?

Others, the doomsayers who had, against the judging eyes of their family, friends, and neighbors, had stockpiled weapons, water, and canned food for years and had even built an underground shelter, would spring into action.

They’d review their survival plans with their spouses and children, load the guns, and hunker down in their shelters while muttering under their breath that they’d been right the whole time.

Bits of Information

At this point radio broadcasts and basic cable, the only two sources of information again, as though it was 1981 all over again, are sharing reports from the streets. Fender benders are happening all over as the street lights won’t work and intersections are clogged with cars that no longer know where they’re going because their GPS systems don’t work.

Police officers and other emergency responders have secure lines, but there’s limited distance that they can communicate. Plus, as looting begins in more crowded neighborhoods, they are incapable of being everywhere.

The broadcasts try telling people to remain calm.

Just remain calm!

But no one can remain calm. How will they finish streaming their favorite binge-worthy streaming shows? How will they connect with all of their friends’ around the world who have deep, philosophical conversations on various social media platforms? How will they share with the world that they took the most amazing photo from their smartphone in front of the monument that hundreds of thousands of other tourists have taken a photo in front of?

However, those who had earned a graduate degree in computer science, as well as officials with a graduate degree in emergency management would be working behind the scenes to coordinate efforts and get the internet back up.

The Rest of the Day

Before noon on the East Coast, the country would descend into chaos. Many people would hunker down, waiting for the chaos to pass. Others would think that all order had been lost and begin raiding stores.

How long would police and other emergency responders be able to stay away from their families?

What Are Some Things That Wouldn’t Work without the Internet?

As the tale above shows, until you take a step back and consider it for a moment, you may not realize how much the internet is incorporated in minor tasks throughout the day.

From the moment you wake, during your commute, through most of your day at work, on your way home, all the way until the moment you go to sleep, you’re using the internet more than you know. Plus, you’re being bombarded with advertisements every step of the way.

If the internet went down for a day, here’s a list of some of the ways it could impact your life.

Your Smart Home Stops Working

This may actually be the first way that people found out that the internet was down. While many smart home and IoT items around your house still work as ‘dumbed-down’ versions, suddenly people wouldn’t be able to turn their lights on from the comfort of an app or be able to lock their doors without turning a key.

Some of the items that wouldn’t work in your home:

  • Smart thermostat
  • Modem and Router
  • Voice assistant
  • Smart fridge
  • Wireless printers
  • Wireless security cameras

On the other hand, thermostats, smoke alarms, and smart locks will work as dumbed-down versions (or like regular ones).

The same is true for your voice assistant. They won’t be able to connect to the internet for obvious reasons, or work your smart home devices, but they will still be able to do simple tasks, such as set an alarm or a timer.

Interconnected Utilities

Our reliance on the internet extends beyond entertainment and communication. Everything in our world is connected through satellites, wifi, and cables. That means even our utilities, such as power and water rely on the internet.

If the internet went down for a day, these services would stop.

Of course, telecommunications companies and your internet service providers wouldn’t be able to operate either. However, many essential services, businesses, and homes have power generators, which would keep the lights on and refrigerators working.

Travel Grinds to a Halt

While many trains could continue operating for a period of time through radio and other forms of technology, other modes of transportation wouldn’t fare as well. For instance, air traffic controllers rely on the internet and GPS to track all flights.

Without the internet, while planes could continue flying, the amount of air traffic in the world would mean that many flights would have to be grounded. It would be up to the government to decide which flights to complete.

Back on the ground, many traffic lights rely on internet connections. Once the internet went down, traffic lights around the country would stop working and there would be no quick solution on how to turn them back on.

Healthcare and Medical Records

Hospitals have their own records and many have plenty of backup power generators to stay operational for a long period of time. The problem would come from medical records, especially as new patients arrived after suffering injuries in the chaos and panic.

Without the internet, the only ways to obtain medical records from doctors would be through the post office.

Plus, as many internal systems shut down abruptly and come back on without an internet connection, many experts fear the loss of some medical records.

Financial Records and Stock Exchanges

Once upon a time, before the internet, banks operated just perfectly. But, now that their technology relies on the internet and staying connected to other branches consistently, if the internet went down, many financial records could be lost.

The same goes for the various stock exchanges around the world. While stock brokers once shouted buy/sell orders across the pit, now all stocks are sold online. Within minutes of the internet going down, all trading would cease, which would leave many people around the world unable to access their assets.

How Could the Internet Go Down?

Unfortunately, for those looking to bring down the internet, there are a number of options. However, because the internet isn’t one single entity and is so spread out around the world with information constantly moving, it is nearly impossible to bring the internet down, even for a day.

Kill Switch

Some countries, such as China, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and India have an “Internet Kill Switch”, which allows the government to shut down internet access.

What would happen if there was a kill switch in the US or the EU that was hacked and shut down the internet down? Or, what if a government flipped the switch and then couldn’t get it back on?

Solar Flares

In 1859, the Carrington Event, the biggest solar storm ever recorded, hit the Earth causing auroras as far south as Cuba and Honolulu and led to sparks flying from telegraph equipment.

Now, as the world relies on technology, a similar solar storm could produce powerful electromagnetic fluctuations that could disrupt GPS and satellite communications.

Terrorist or Cyber Attack

As hacking has evolved with the internet, one of the most common types of hack is a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), which overloads a network server with internet traffic.

Using this kind of attack, a 15-year-old hacker, Michael Calce (better known as Mafiaboy), successfully took down CNN, Yahoo!, Amazon, and other popular sites in 2000. While cyber security has become much more sophisticated, so has hacking, and the ability to create botnets to create even more fake traffic.

Cutting the Wires

It may seem a little outlandish that to take down the internet could be as simple as cutting the wires, but most of the connections between continents are actually through underwater cables. At times, these cables have been damaged.

For instance, in 2008, people in the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia experienced major internet outages on three separate occasions. Attacks on these cables could isolate some continents by interfering with service.

World War III

Cybersecurity expert Bruce Schneier, who has been writing about the field since 1998, has spoken to leaders and top professionals and it seems that in 2016, there were targeted probes of calibrated attacks designed to determine how well companies can defend themselves.

He believes, as well as others, that this was a state-sponsored attack that could be searching for information and use it in case of war to cripple the country. If another world war started, bring down important websites and government sites would be a way to cripple a country’s economy.

Take Out Data Centers

Data centers house all of the major components of the internet. These, and their exchange points, are located around the world and are heavily guarded. And more data centers are built all the time.

However, targeted, physical attacks on a number of data centers, coordinated with DDoS attacks could bring down the internet.

Has the Internet Ever Gone Down?

No, the whole internet has never gone down. But there have been times when portions of the internet have gone down, at least temporarily.

This is partly due to the consolidation of the internet into a few large companies. For instance, in February 2017, Amazon’s cloud storage service S3 experienced technical difficulties. This cloud storage hosts many website and apps, as well as images and videos on other sites.

The server malfunctioned for nearly four hours, and though this wasn’t the same as the entire internet being down, when a number of your favorite sites and apps don’t work¸ it can feel the same way.

Dyn Goes Down

While Dyn isn’t near as recognizable as Amazon, it is one of the largest Domain Name Services, which translates URLs that you recognize and routes them to the right servers.

A DDoS attack in 2016 knocked down some of the most popular sites, including Reddit, CNN, Twitter, PayPal, and others. These types of attacks, though unable to bring down the entire internet, have a serious effect on how we communicate with one another and use our favorite services.

Study How to Defend the Internet!

If you want to study how you can help defend the internet from shutting down, even if only for a day, you have plenty of options. For instance, consider earning a master’s of computer science or find the perfect cybersecurity graduate program for you.

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