Infrastructure in danger – space researcher warns of impending “Internet apocalypse”

Published11. September 2021, 10:37

A strong solar storm could lead to a total and worldwide internet blackout, warns the researcher Abdu Jyothi. Such an event is not even that improbable.

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Solar storms are geomagnetic storms that start from the sun.

Nasa

They bombard the earth with charged particles.

Nasa

Solar storms can be of different strengths.

Solar storms can be of different strengths.

Nasa

  • A global internet blackout is almost unimaginable.

  • The effects that such an event would have are inconceivable.

  • In fact, it could happen in the next ten years.

  • A space researcher is now urgently warning against this.

Solar storms, in which the earth is bombarded by charged particles, occur again and again. Usually these are so weak that the atmosphere and the earth’s magnetic field sufficiently protect the planet from them. From time to time, however, there are also storms that can be felt on earth. For example, in 1859, when the so-called Carrington event occurred. A large number of such charged particles hit the telegraph network in North America and Europe and caused failures. In addition, the northern lights were visible as far as Rome and Hawaii.

Although the telegraph outage was a nuisance at the time, the solar storm did not have far-reaching effects. It would look different today. Because such storms can have a negative impact on power grids, radio networks and satellites. Space researcher Abdu Jyothi knows that this could be devastating for society.

“The pandemic got me thinking”

At the “Sigcomm 2021” conference, she presented her study on this topic and warns that a violent solar storm today could lead to a veritable “Internet apocalypse”. This would have devastating effects. The researcher estimates that an Internet blackout that lasts only one day would cause damage amounting to seven billion dollars in the United States alone.

“The pandemic got me thinking,” said Jyothi. She showed how unprepared the world was for such a crisis. There was no protocol to deal effectively with Corona and the same would apply in the event of a complete internet failure. Submarine cables and long connecting cables, as well as satellite communication, are particularly susceptible to a solar storm.

Jyothi is not alone in her fears. A 2013 study calculated that an event like the Carrington event today would result in 20 to 40 million people in the United States being without electricity for up to two years.

Protection almost impossible

But this scenario is not as unimaginable as it sounds. As reported by fr.de, the earth narrowly escaped such a catastrophe in 2012. At that time there was a geomagnetic storm that was comparable in size to the Carrington event. This just missed the earth. Nasa also reported in 2014 that it is not inconceivable that the earth will face a similar event in the next ten years.

Protecting the planet from such a storm is almost impossible. Early warning systems can sound the alarm around 13 hours before such an event, but there is little that can be done about it. Therefore, Jyothi advises preparing the Internet infrastructure for such an event as soon as possible. For example, more cables could be laid in regions of the world where a solar storm would have less of an impact, such as in Central and South America.

The scientist also advises working out a shutdown strategy. If the systems are switched off prematurely in the event of an impending solar storm, this could make the situation easier. “It is crucial that we take the danger seriously and plan the defense in good time,” said Jyothi.

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Infrastructure danger space researcher warns impending Internet apocalypse

 
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