Posts Tagged ‘EMP’

SORRY, Internet Closed! NOW WHAT?

February 3, 2011

Who pulled the plug?

(Geekspeak Alert! Multiple occurrences of Information Technology jargon and abbreviations follow. Approach at your own risk.)

What if, what if, what if…? The recent discussion of the Egyptians’ reliance on the Internet for communication in their uprising, and of the “Internet Kill Switch” legislation in our own Congress, led me to thinking about preparedness in general, and emergency communication in particular.

The Internet has gone from an obscure fad to a virtual communication spinal cord in a couple of decades. It’s “the network of networks.” It’s “the cloud,” and the “information superhighway.” To some, it’s a free-flowing gutter; to others, it’s a lifeline to information, communication and entertainment they can’t imagine being without.

You are “plugged in,” to one degree or another, to that “cloud,” or you wouldn’t be reading this.

What if it went away?

Egypt did its best to shut off public access to the Internet when the rioting in Cairo began to turn into a revolt.

According to a TIME online story, what the Mubarak regime did was order the Internet Service Providers that serve Egypt to shut down their Domain Name Service (DNS servers). The article offers a capsule explanation of DNS:

When you open up your web browser and type a domain name into the address bar—say, for instance—your service provider sends a lightning-quick request to whichever service provider uses to make its web pages publicly available on the internet.

The computer that holds all of’s web pages sends a response back through its internet service provider basically saying, “Yes, we’re online. Here’s the web page you requested.”

That’s part of the story. The critical part of the DNS process is address translation. The Internet doesn’t know from The DNS server converts the Universal Resource label (URL), the “human-friendly” name for the site you want to see, into an Internet Protocol (IP) address, which, for now, is a series of numbers and periods in the format ###.###.###. That is what really travels across town or around the world, to arrive at “”

There’s a lesson, for you. If DNS service is down, you need a list of Internet Protocol addresses you can put into the address field of your browser to get to sites directly.

To get to my favorite Internet news site, World Net Daily, in the absence of DNS service, I simply put “”(without the quotation marks) into my address field, and go there.

How did I find that out? I opened a command line window (I speak Windows; sorry, Apple and Linux speakers – you’re on your own) and ran the PING command using several of my most frequent browsing destinations.

Here’s an example of the PING command and its output, from my IP address gathering process:

C:\Documents and Settings\Tom Cox>ping
 Pinging [] with 32 bytes of data:
Reply from bytes=32 time=105ms TTL=46
Reply from bytes=32 time=113ms TTL=46
Reply from bytes=32 time=112ms TTL=46
Reply from bytes=32 time=111ms TTL=46 
Ping statistics for
Packets: Sent = 4, Received = 4, Lost = 0 (0% loss),
Approximate round trip times in milli-seconds:
 Minimum = 105ms, Maximum = 113ms, Average = 110ms

The important information here isn’t the lousy ping times I get from my ISP, but the fact that when I enter the domain name — in this case – (note the omission of “www” and the like), PING gives me the IP address, ( it got from the DNS server I am currently connected to, which it uses to find the right server at the other end and measure the time required to get an acknowledgment.

Obviously, taking down the DNS service will impede access for those who don’t know how to get around it, but just as obviously, that is a porous barrier to the Internet. Not only can people who have stored their most-used IP addresses locally get through, but satellite-based ISPs, as well as any ISP who can be reached by dial-up, even in another hemisphere, can provide access, however slow and filtered that access may be. Any regime or force that wants to cut off Internet service completely, or at least much more completely than the Egyptian government did, has to take down wireline phone service, as well as cellular service, and jam satellite downlink frequencies.

The Internet is designed with “robustness” in mind, with multiple paths among connected nodes, and that makes an “Internet Kill Switch”more of a challenge than it may appear to be from a user’s perspective. (Thanks to Bruce Schneier, long-time Internet security and encryption expert)

If it were possible to take down the Internet in a given region, the results may be a classic, “be careful what you wish for” scenario. Governments that want to clamp down on the Internet may discover too late how dependent their own activities are on it. Will they be able to use government debit cards to refuel military vehicles? Will their air traffic control system’s communication network collapse? How about the electrical grid, public transportation, metropolitan traffic control systems, for starters – will a government that wants to enhance its grip on its population deliberately blind and deafen itself, just to silence social networks and news outlets?

Government suppression of the Internet may be the least of our concerns, in fact. We don’t even need our government to put the Internet at risk. Two other “actors” may be a lot more likely to succeed where governments fail: terrorists, and the sun.

All it will take is a little, tiny episode of solar flatulence, known scientifically as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). The sun, notorious for its stubborn inclination to ignore and flaunt government regulations and environmentalist lobbying, is about due for another of its periodic episodes of instability. This instability includes a tendency to fling huge clouds of high-energy particles out from its nearly-endless supply of such materials.

A solar corona hole, February 3, 2011, courtesy


Should our planet happen to be in the way of one of these clouds, the results will be spectacular and calamitous, but not unprecedented. As it passes through the cloud, the energy in the cloud will induce electric currents in any conductor, such as a power line or radio antenna, and the currents induced may be much greater than the conductor, and any connected equipment, can tolerate.

The earth itself will rattle with the shock of this blast of energy. A geomagnetic storm is a secondary effect of the CME. The earth’s magnetic field will ring like a bell, with effects on life and technology both known and unknown.

The history of these storms shows but a hint of the potential impact on the whole energy-transportation-communication-security-economy infrastructure.

This impact would not be an overnight phenomenon, but could bathe the earth in strong energy clouds for weeks or months. The associated Aurora displays might be spectacularly beautiful, but most of us will be too busy trying to survive the other effects to have much time top enjoy the show.

Aurora, courtesy Wikipedia

Aurora Borealis, courtesy Wikipedia -

Ole’ Mom Nature and government shutdowns are not the only way uncontrollable forces can have a huge impact on the Internet and the rest of the infrastructure.  A small, but well-funded group of terrorists, or “axis of evil” agents, armed with a small nuclear weapon and a “SCUD” class, intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) can blind and cripple us, too.

SCUD on semi-trailer launcher, courtesy Wklipedia


A nondescript container ship could pull up off the Atlantic coast a hundred miles out from Washington DC, and launch a missile sold or donated by Russia, North Korea, Iran, or a non-state entity with lots of money. If the missile has a warhead consisting of, say, a refurbished Russian tactical nuclear warhead, furnished by the same thoughtful donor or another, or sold by some organized crime venture, the goal would be to detonate the missile not on or near the ground, as in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks, but a hundred miles or so above Washington, or nearby.

The nuclear detonation, even resulting from a very small, “suitcase”-style weapon, would have the expected blast effects from heat and sudden pressure – although they would be diminished on the ground due to the high altitude of the detonation — but it would also create a huge, sharp electromagnetic pulse (EMP). Before discounting the possibly existence of nuclear warheads small enough to launch above a SCUD-sized IRBM, recall that both the Russians and Americans developed and built thousands of nuclear artillery shells, one of which was successfully test-fired and detonated.

The upper atmosphere would interact with the pulse to create a huge, secondary pulse that would spread over an area of hundreds, or thousands, of square miles. There would be instant and dramatic effects on anything electrical for hundreds or thousands of miles in any direction. The impulse would be far stronger than a CME-induced surge, but lasting only a fraction of a second. The effect, though, would last for months, or years, in terms of its effect on the nation.

The effect on a society as dependent on electricity and electronics as ours, would be devastating, and that is not just the apocalyptic fantasy of a few catastrophe freaks and post-apocalypse survival enthusiasts. Credible groups have testified before Congress on the potential effects of such an attack, but with little apparent impact on our national priorities.

Nightmarish scenarios exist, such as a novel by a historian named William Forstchen, One Second After.

There is considerable disagreement as to the scientific and technical accuracy of the novel’s predictions, as one can see in the extended discussion of the book on Amazon, but not much disagreement that the effects will be severe and long-lasting. As long as the Internet stays up, you can learn more about EMP in its various forms at EMPact America,

Whether the cause of the outage is government action, terrorism or solar storms, doing without the Internet is

What’s a communication-dependent technophile to do? Do you carry a spare tire in your car? Why? The odds of a flat in the middle of nowhere are low, but the repercussions are severe – what disaster prep strategists refer to as a “low probability, high consequences event.”

Technophiles are smart to be ready with multiple options for communications, to fit the circumstances. Dead cell phone battery? Where’s your crank-up charger? Power out for an extended period? Cable system, wireline phone system, and cell service down? Where’s your CB radio, your GMRS/FRS portable radio set, your crystal radio, complete with rolled-up, ready-to-launch wire antenna, your HF ham radio and accessories, your fire starting kit, your wood stove, your bottled water, your toilet paper, your emergency food, your maps, your compass, your handgun, your rifle, your ammunition…

From a dead DNS server to the collapse of civil society and enemy attack – you can be a victim, or you can be prepared.


Smart Grid Paranoia

October 28, 2009


Erica Lovley, (POLITICO.COM), 3/4/09Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus bill includes $4.5 billion in funding for the so-called Smart Grid, an ambitious plan to modernize the country’s electric grid that many Obama contributors are helping to shape.

Steve Holland, (Reuters) – ARCADIA, Fla., Oct 27President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced $3.4 billion in grants to help build a “smart” electric grid meant to trim utility bills, reduce blackouts and carry power generated by solar and wind energy.

Oh, don’t we feel good? The Obama administration is paying back GE, Google, IBM and Microsoft, among other evil corporations, for their support of Dear Leader’s presidential campaign. How? Why, they’re handing them a bag full of Scamulus Gigabucks to implement “Smart Grid,” the technology that is supposed to “modernize the country’s electrical grid.” What could be wrong with that?

See, our electrical grid has been patched and bandaged to keep it from repeating the sort of “cascading failure” that caused the Northeast Blackout of 2003, but much of the physical plant that makes up the electric power distribution system of the United States is old, obsolete, and subject to just such failures at any moment.

(Never mind that it is also terribly vulnerable to terrorist attack, either via the Internet or by any sufficiently insane country or extra-national entity with a few bucks to spend to loft a Scud from a freighter off the Atlantic coast, topped with a low-end nuclear warhead, and detonate said warhead a hundred miles above Washington or Baltimore, wiping out the whole system for months, or years. Never mind that.)

Why would the electric companies neglect their own infrastructure? Let me speculate: The big electric power companies are reluctant to put hundreds of millions of dollars of stockholders’ money into infrastructure improvements that will require a microscopic rectal examination by every regulatory agency and environmental group in North America to be sure that they don’t harm snails, owls and fish, or cause offense to favored ethnic groups, or allow career legislators to use them as punching bags when appealing to the aforementioned groups for campaign money.

And, these days, those greedy power company execs are probably wondering, “Is Obama going to nationalize us, the way he did the financial industry and the auto industry, and the way he wants to nationalize the health care industry? Will someone explain to us why we would want to sink money into improvements, when some Obama appointee may well wind up carving up our salaries and profit margins, or inventing regulations that make electricity so expensive no one can afford it?”

Well, now, simmer down. All this “Smart Grid” stuff is about is allowing the power company to reach into your house and instruct your dishwasher to run overnight, when power usage in your area is lower — your dishwasher, and any other appliance that has the right kind of microprocessor controller, and a connection to the Internet.  Never mind that you might want to set your own dishwasher’s timer to run later all by yourself, or that you have good reasons for wanting it done before bedtime.

Big deal, right? Oh, it may also allow Big Power to turn back the thermostat on your central heat system to 60 or so, on the next cold night, from your preferred 68. So, Global Warming takes the night off, and the house is a little chilly when you roll out of bed in the morning. So, it takes a while to get it back into a comfortable range, while you shiver in your bathrobe and sweats, in front of the coffee machine, waiting for it to receive permission from the Smart Grid to start perking. So what? We all have to make sacrifices, in this new world.

You’d like to warm up in the shower, but the electric water heater is still recovering from being put into “sleep” mode by Smart Grid, and it will be a while before there’s enough hot water to keep you from feeling like one of those Titanic passengers floating in the icy North Atlantic, waiting for Leonardo DiCaprio to shut up and drown.

You’d pass the time watching Fox News, but oddly, the new, microprocessor-controlled TV in the kitchen skips past Fox News and stops on MSNBC, and has been doing that for a while. You think about disconnecting the network line that connects that TV to the Internet, but (surely not!) the creepy tingle in your scalp may be less about the prospect of a cold shower, and more because the thought has wormed its way into your mind that someone has decided you are too easily influenced to be allowed to watch Fox News, and is using your power company connection to block it from your TV.

If you disconnect the network line from the TV, will somebody know, and just not allow it to power on, tomorrow morning? Fox News will just put dangerous ideas in your head, anyway. Might as well leave it connected, and do without Fox. That way, when your security system’s motion detectors indicate to Smart Grid that the kitchen is empty, it can turn the TV off, and save a few watt-hours. It saves you money, and allows the poor and unfortunate to use the power you would otherwise waste — or your self-righteous, vegan neighbor can use it to top off the charge in his little electric car.

So, what is there to be paranoid about? Sure, you flew that “Don’t Tread on Me” flag on September 12th, and you sent $20 via the Internet to that independent Congressional candidate that pledged to put the Constitution ahead of any desire for re-election, even though he wasn’t running in your district. A couple other people in your neighborhood did, and, in fact, your congressional district didn’t go for Obama in ’07.

Wait a minute… I wonder if it ever occurs to the Obama Administration to tweak the Smart Grid to favor “blue states” over “red states?” Once you have the power over power, the possibilities are endless. As I wrote a while back:

Once you have a stranglehold on the generation and use of energy, you have a stranglehold on people.  Let’s just suppose that, on this sub-zero night over a large swath of the United States, the feds decide to provide a little object lesson about how the Constitution is no longer a limit on government power.  It would be a little brazen for President for Life Obama to instruct everyone to hold his or her breath for a few minutes, just to get an idea of what it would be like to be prohibited from emitting the bad pollutant CO2.  Might be a little hard to enforce, too, at this early stage in the Administration.

No, let’s just “accidentally” turn off the power to some states that didn’t go “blue” in the last election, but they’re going “blue” now, from sub-zero temperatures.  Not for long; just for a few hours — say, overnight…the first time, anyway.  Maybe, they will be offered some half-hearted explanation about a squirrel getting into the transformer, and the dang computers shut everything down, dumb computers, or Christian fundamentalist  terrorists, or something.  But don’t try too hard to be convincing, because the point is to make a subtle threat.

See?  If you don’t play by the new rules, will the Constitution keep you warm?  (Maybe you could burn your copy of the Bill of Rights on the kitchen table.  That’ll last a minute or two.)  Yes, your wood stove may tide you over for a few days without power, but a passing car carrying a government official might just see smoke coming from the chimney.  A DEA helicopter might be scanning in the infrared for indoor hydroponic pot farms, and see the heat coming from your fire.  Whoa, we can’t have that, can we? Spewing CO2 out into the publicly-owned air, melting glaciers and drowning polar bears? Tsk.

No, that would never happen. Sure, Obama said before the election he was about to “transform” our country. Sure, he keeps hiring people to important posts who profess an affection for socialism and even communism, and for mass murderers like Mao tse-tung. But surely, they have no intention of making those quirky political views into policy, right?

I’m just being paranoid. Right? Hey! Who turned off the lights?