Internet Blackout In a Small, Poor Country

We should pay attention.

(ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

The Internet is the bad blood that flows through the American vein. It's mixed in with the good stuff. But if you try to take even a part of it out of your system, bad things will happen.

In the land of Khartoum, Omar al-Bashir, war criminal and head of state of Sudan, was in a tight spot in December of 2018. Citizens took to the streets to protest the high cost of bread. Crowds formed in the cities of Atbara and Khartoum. The sparks of a revolution soon lit a fire that most dictators worth their salt would be hard to put out once citizens started it.

Bashir did what any respectable dictator would do; he turned off the Internet (that motherfucker!). The initial attack aimed to block social media platforms. Bishir can be forgiven for the thinking behind this decision. Internet social media can bring a corrupt (or non-corrupt) regime down. This block lasted for a couple of months. Virtual Private Networks (VPN) were available, so there was still a flow of information happening.

The generals removed Bashir from power in the spring of 2019. He found out what most of us would already know; dictators need the Internet also! Bishir put a puppet replacement in place. The people were having none of that shit. Protesters flooded the streets to complain, and this continued until early June, Sudan's Rapid Support Forces fired live rounds into the crowds, which broke up the protesting. Over 100 people were reported killed. Protesters caught much of the violence on their cell phones.

Then things became worse. The dictator turned off the Internet totally. VPN was not avaialble. Sudan was no longer on the Internet map. Sudan has a shortage of money. Most people use digital methods for monetary transactions. Commercial transactions ceased, inflation was the highest in the world, and goods were scarce. Almost everything the citizens could do came to a halt because of the Internet blackout. Grocery shelves shriveled, bills could not be paid, and most importantly, there was hardly any communication to the outside world.

Many experts on cyber warfare have stated that eliminating our power grid would be a great way to defeat America. I don't think it takes an expert to figure that out. Americans are already at each other throats, even though we still have most of life's luxuries at our fingertips. If America's power grid were cut off with the Internet included, China would only need to wait one week. As even just a rumor of resource shortages (like toilet paper, for example) gets out to individual towns and cities, at least half of Americans would kill each other before the Chinese shoot a single shot.

We are not ready for an Internet outage. In this sense, we are no better than a third-world country. We have neither the technical or moral resiliency to survive a full-fledged cyber attack. But also like a third world country, and lucky for America, it is almost impossible to cut off a country's Internet totally.

In Khartoum, engineers from the telecom companies formed a committee and coordinated secret plans to enable access. The telecom companies had the real power. Shutting down the Internet is a slow process. The engineers started bringing the Internet back to life only a few hours after the government-ordered shutdown. The VPN enabled a flow of traffic to go through, and social media sites became available.

It is unlikely (at this writing) that the American government would order a shutdown of the Internet, and even if it did, it is unlikely to work. However, what we face is worse than an ordered shutdown. China can do that, and Russia has already had a couple of dress rehearsals, attacking a pipeline carrying 45% of the East Coast's gasoline and hacking several U.S. Government Agencies in December of 2020.

Trying to prevent any Internet outage takes a back seat to building an infrastructure to support or mitigate this type of outage. If we all behaved civilly during an outage, there's no doubt we would make it through. However, we need to start a dialogue on the threat at least.

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Humanist, educator, writer, photographer, and modern-day Luddite. http://thomasholtrussell.zenfolio.com/ My writing is a living organism.

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Thomas Holt Russell

Thomas Holt Russell

Humanist, educator, writer, photographer, and modern-day Luddite. http://thomasholtrussell.zenfolio.com/ My writing is a living organism.

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