Is is possible to turn off the internet worldwide?

Disabling the entire internet would be like trying to stop the flow of every river in the world at once.

7th May 2018
Is is possible to turn off the internet worldwide? (Getty)

Asked by: Mark Hurst, Wigan

No. This is like asking “could you stop every river in the world at once?”. You can dam or divert individual streams, but it is virtually impossible to block them all at once, because the water always tries to find a new route downhill. Likewise, the internet is a huge and complex structure operated by a mixture of government and commercial bodies – as well as billions of private individuals. There isn’t a single connection point that all the data flows through, and the internet protocol was specifically designed so that data finds a route around parts of the network that are down.

But the internet isn’t entirely invulnerable, either. In 2011, during the Egyptian Revolution, the Egyptian government ordered the four national internet service providers to turn off the Domain Name System (DNS) and alter the Border Gateway Protocol of their servers. This prevented any internet traffic in or out of the country.

The UK has the legal authority to do the same thing in the event of a national crisis, but this power has never been used. And if the US for some reason ordered Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and Google to turn off their servers, the internet would be as good as shut down for most of us.

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