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Juniper BGP Bug Briefly Takes Down the Internet

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On the morning on November 7, while folks in my part of the country (Oklahoma) were still trying to come to grips with being rocked by two damage-causing earthquakes in less than 24 hours (that's unheard of for OK), a previously unknown software bug in the BGP function of Juniper routers caused a major hiccup in the Internet. Details on what exactly the problem was are very thin, but Juniper acknowledged that "a small percentage of customers" was affected. Unfortunately, that small percentage happened to be companies that run routers in the core of the Internet (like Level 3). The outage was widespread, but short.

A CNN story leads with a sentence beginning "The seemingly indestructible Internet..." Seemingly indestructible? For years I have been of the opinion that the Internet is extremely fragile and has only been able to survive this long because of sheer momentum. Here's my analogy: The Internet is like a runner stumbling over a hurdle. While it may still be on its feet, the inevitable outcome is that its momentum will bring it to a spectacular, smashing conclusion.

So, if the Internet is so fragile, you may ask, why has it not crashed yet as a result of terrorism, nation-state attack, or simple accident? Allow me to present my theories.

  • The terrorists want to cause terror, not boredom, which is exactly what most of the developed world would experience if the Internet failed. Large numbers of dead bodies get more media attention than 5 billion people bored to tears, not to mention that the media wouldn't be able to distribute images of the terrorism without the Internet, and the terrorists wouldn't be able to take credit without it. So no, they won't take down the Internet.
  • The nation-state attackers would love to take down the Internet because of the economic damage it would do to their adversary, but they realize this: their nation and its economy is in the same boat as who they would be attacking. If the Internet core failed, the world would end up with several dozen very small and useless Internets. E-commerce would cease to exist until everything was put back together. You can't wage war if you can't fund it, or communicate to your troops, or schedule the movement of supplies. Nope, these guys aren't that dumb either. (Although a leader like the one the North Koreans had might just be crazy enough to do it anyway.)
  • That leaves us with a simple accident. Why has this not happened yet? Good question. We've gotten close, although I think some of the close calls may have been made to look like accidents. Some very smart people watch the core of the Internet, though, and so far they've been able to stem the damage of these accidents very quickly.

I will tell you who is going to take down the Internet: it's going to be some crazy, over-worked, computer nerd at a small regional ISP who's just going to snap one day and unleash hell upon the Tubes. Sure, the Feds will label this nerd a "terrorist," but he/she will really be nothing more than a nut job. Mark my words.

Many of my friends call me a cynic. I believe I am a realist.