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Top 10 Times People Tried To Shut Down The Internet

by Benjamin Thomas
fact checked by Jamie Frater

The internet is a vital part of modern life. Without web access, all kinds of businesses and jobs would be unable to function. So, as you can imagine, there are plenty of people who would love to see the internet crumble.

Since Tim Berners-Lee launched the World Wide Web in the late 1980s, there have been numerous attempts to shut down the internet. Some of these attacks were carried out by coordinated military groups and governments in a bid for political control. Others consisted of one irate man ripping the wires out of a service box. From accidental cyber attacks to foiled terrorist plots, here are ten times people had a go – and in some cases succeeded – at shutting down the internet.

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10 Texas Man Attempts To Blow Up The Web

FBI Arrest Man Plotting To ‘Kill’ 70% Of The Internet With A Bomb

In 2021, a man from Texas was arrested for plotting to blow up the internet. Seth Aaron Pendley allegedly planned to take out 70% of the web by destroying a data center in Virginia with a C-4 explosive. The US Department of Justice told reporters that Pendley planned to target the servers of the FBI and CIA. It is said that he wanted to tear down ‘the oligarchy’ that currently rules the United States.

Authorities were tipped off to Pendley’s plot by one of his friends. According to reporters, he was an active member of extremist websites where he went by the name of Dionysus – the Greek god of wine and ritual madness. He wrote on the forum MyMilitia about his desire to “conduct a little experiment.” He also boasted about taking a sawed-off AR rifle to the storming of the Capitol building but claims he left it in the car.

Had Pendley carried out his attack, it would not have destroyed 70% of the internet. The physical infrastructure is distributed across the world and backed up multiple times. Pendley now faces up to 20 years in federal prison if he is found guilty.

9 Man Tries To Destroy Internet To Hide Embarrassing Footage

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Nobody likes to be humiliated online. But one man took his quest to hide embarrassing videos to the extreme. In 2016, a Chinese man known as Liu worried that someone would upload footage of him dancing to the web. So Liu decided to take matters into his own hands and set out to destroy the internet.

That summer, having recently moved to the city of Weifang, he had decided to join in with a public fitness dance. In China, it is common for middle-aged women to gather in the streets and take part in “granny dances.” Liu chose to join one of these granny dances, to the amusement of some of the locals. He told police that passers-by were giggling and recording him on their phones.

Liu thought little of it at the time, but a few months later he began to worry that the footage might be shared online. This was when he decided to take action. One night in August, Liu broke into four China Telecom service boxes and ripped out the insides. In total, he caused 10,000 Yuan ($15,000) worth of damage. But Liu was spotted multiple times on CCTV and subsequently arrested by local police.

8 Chad’s Year-Long Social Media Outage

For sixteen months, starting in March 2018, Chad faced the longest social media blackout in African history. Only 6.5% of people had regular internet access. People were unable to interact with their loved ones. Local businesses struggled to advertise online. Journalists had to fight to get their voices heard.

The government imposed the ban in response to growing dissent. Critics have described President Idriss Déby as a “democratically bankrupt” leader and accused him of mass censorship. They claim he is clinging to power, and that the social media ban was a desperate attempt to quell anti-government activists.

As IT experts CIPESA explained in a recent report: “African governments with democracy deficits, regardless of the number of their citizens that use the internet, recognise – and fear – the power of the internet in…empowering ordinary people to speak truth to power.”

7 Disruption As Mirai Botnet Attacks Dyn Servers

The web is rife with hackers and malware, but few caused as much damage as the Mirai botnet. The attack devastated US systems when it brought down much of the country’s internet in October 2016. It targeted the IT company Dyn, which controlled a large amount of online infrastructure at the time. The digital assault caused a major internet outage. It affected major websites like Twitter, Netflix, and CNN.

The Mirai botnet was a sophisticated kind of cyber attack, known as a distributed denial of service (DDoS). Computer servers are inundated with traffic until they become overwhelmed and the system shuts down. Experts estimate that Mirai was the largest DDoS attack in history. Hackers infiltrated a vast array of devices, including digital cameras and video players, then forced them to attack Dyn’s servers.

6 Houthi Rebels Sever Yemen’s Main Cable

Yemen is in the grip of one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today. Since 2015, Houthi rebels have been locked in a devastating battle with Saudi-led coalition forces. The Houthis are known to use the internet as a weapon, plunging the country into a web blackout.

In July 2018, 80% of internet users were left stranded after rebel forces severed the country’s main fiber optic cable. The rebel forces slashed the cable while strengthening their defenses in the Red Sea port of Hodeidah.

“The rebels impose bans on social media networks and slow down the speed of the already weakened internet service,” explained telecommunications minister Lutfi Bashreef, “and this comes amid reports they intend to soon cut off the internet completely to cover their crimes.”

5 Myanmar Coup Government Introduce Internet Shutdown

As is the case with most modern political conflicts, in Myanmar the internet is a key battlefield. When the military junta seized power in February 2021, they were keen to suppress online dissent. The coup leaders quickly shut off all mobile data in the country, and wireless broadband soon followed. At least 535 have been killed since the military takeover.

But the people of Myanmar are refusing to bow down to the hostile forces. The night before the broadband blackout, there was a surge of people pointing to radio channels and communication apps that can be used without internet access. Protestors took to the streets for a defiant vigil, using candles to declare: “We will never surrender.”

4 Morris Worm, The Accidental Cyber Attack

The World’s First Cyber Crime: The Morris Worm [KERNEL PANIC]

In 1988, Cornell graduate student Robert Tappan Morris was working on a way to measure the size of the internet. Little did he know he would end up launching the world’s first cyber attack. Morris created a program that would jump from computer to computer, counting each one. Every time his program entered a new machine, it would send a brief signal back to a central server which kept count.

The trouble is his program, now known as the Morris worm, spread too quickly and ended up clogging up much of the web. The bug tore through the net, copying itself between each device and pinging back to the server. Morris had inadvertently invented the DDoS cyber attack – a type of digital assault that forces devices to overwhelm a server with traffic. His accidental offensive brought the internet to its knees.

3 Saboteurs Try To Cut Off Internet In Egypt

Three scuba divers were arrested off the port of Alexandria after attempting to slice through an undersea internet cable and bring down the Egyptian web. The Egyptian coastguard intercepted the team before they were able to cause any disruption.

In 2013, Egyptian naval forces published images online of three men tied up that they accused had tried to sabotage an internet cable. At the time of the attack, Egyptian online traffic was connected to Europe via eight cables. So cutting one of the cables would not have destroyed the web, but it would have caused a significant disturbance. The men refused to reveal the motive for their foiled attack, or if they were working for anyone.

2 India’s Long History Of Internet Shutdowns

In recent years, India has blocked internet access more than any other country. The blackouts began around the time that the government introduced a contentious citizenship law in 2019. Since then the country has seen a surge in protestors taking a stand against the Hindu nationalist regime. Authorities often respond by suspending the internet. They claim it is essential to “keep the peace.” But many Indians have accused officials of attacking their free speech.

The most prominent internet blackout occurred after Modi’s government shut down services in the regions of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019. Over 13 million people were left stranded for eighteen months, before the web was finally restored in February 2021.

1 Onslaught Against Internet’s Root Server System

The Attack That Could Disrupt The Whole Internet – Computerphile

In 2002, the internet was struck by what technology experts at the time called “the largest and most complex DDoS attack ever.” Cyber attackers orchestrated an onslaught of traffic against the thirteen root servers that, at the time, formed the heart of internet communications.

Fortunately, built-in safeguards prevented the web from being taken offline. But had the hour-long offensive lasted longer, it could have had severe repercussions for internet users across the globe.

Digital security expert Chris Morrow described the barrage as “probably the most concerted attack against the Internet infrastructure that we’ve seen.”

“The only way to stop such attacks is to fix the vulnerabilities on the machines that ultimately get taken over and used to launch them,” another security expert, Alan Paller, told reporters. “There’s no defense once the machines are under the attacker’s control.”

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fact checked by Jamie Frater