Internet ‘kill switch’ could have catastrophic repercussions

Killswitch

As US IT security experts and liberty organisations discuss the ramifications of the recent effective shutdown of the Internet in Egypt – and whether President Obama should have access to an Internet ‘kill switch’ – some experts are saying that the saga highlights the need for IT contingency planning.

According to Claire Sellick, Event Director for Infosecurity Europe, the lessons coming out of the Egypt net shutdown – and the fact that the US government is now talking about having access to a similar ‘shutdown button’ for the US side of the Internet – should act as a red flag to IT managers in organisations of all sizes.

“What we are seeing here is a rising awareness of the Internet’s reliance on key physical elements such as main server centres and major routing stations, and how closing down these elements can effectively paralyse a nation’s access to the Internet,” she said.

“The headache that this causes on the security front is, what effect would a shutdown on, for example, of one or more of the US Internet main switches, or the Amsterdam Internet Exchange (AMS-IX), have on your organisation, and the answer is that the effects could be very severe,” she added.

Sellick went on to say that a number of UK ISPs rely on peering links with US and European exchanges for a lot of their Internet traffic, so if a foreign exchange shutdown were to occur, it could have severe repercussions for some UK hosted Web sites and company intranet/Internet traffic.

The key word here, she explained, is `some’ as not all Internet hosting and service providers in the UK are equal in terms of their reliance on foreign exchange resources.

For example, she says, whilst most of the UK’s Internet traffic is routed via the London Telehouse switches, a growing minority is also being routed via Manchester’s MANAP switch, meaning that a serious issue with one switch would mean users of the other switch could continue business as usual.

It all comes to Internet routing diversity, Sellick said, adding that, whilst experts in the US are now realising that there can never be a `kill switch’ for the US Internet, they also realise it is still possible to lock down large portions of the North American Internet grid.

“And the effects of this could range from catastrophic to a minor inconvenience, depending on which hosting or internet service provider your UK organisation uses, and whether you have IP route diversity systems in place,” she said.

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Christian Harris is editor and publisher of BCW. Christian has over 20 years' publishing experience and in that time has contributed to most major IT magazines and Web sites in the UK. He launched BCW in 2009 as he felt there was a need for honest and personal commentary on a wide range of business computing issues. Christian has a BA (Hons) in Publishing from the London College of Communication.