back to article Gates: Killing the internet is easy

When the revolution comes, someone's always ready to tell you how Facebook and Twitter are powering history. The problem is that while they're still standing, governments can snuff out Facebook and Twitter whenever they like. All they need do is flip the "off" switch on the servers, routers, and wireless equipment used by …


This topic is closed for new posts.


  1. CaptainHook

    Mesh networking

    Roll on Mesh Networks. They may never have the bandwidth needed to support real time bandwidth intensive applications like video, but they certainly can provide access to webpages.

    A single route out of the country included inside the mesh and the governments control over communication disappears.

    Loud speaker, cos when the internet goes down you can still talk to a lot of people.

    1. Ru
      Thumb Down

      Mesh networking will not save the world

      How hard do you suppose it would be to add a 2.6ghz scanner to a police vehicle? Maybe some sort of house-to-house UWB might evade that sort of detection, but faced with well armed police in the employ of what is not easily distinguishable from a military dictatorship I think I'd rather stick with traditional methods of covert communication.

      Shame satellite bandwidth is still so pricey, but its clearly not beyond the reach of some militant groups...

      1. copsewood

        house to house covert comms

        Work better using twisted pair. I know neighbours who share the cost of broadband connections between themselves using good old ethernet cat 5. WiFi scanners wouldn't see anything unusual.

        You'd still need outlinks from nieghbourhood LANS, but this approach would share the cost of the more expensive satellite links. It would require a culture shift though - tweets and text only email OK, multimedia heavy web experience not OK.

      2. Wayland Sothcott 1 Bronze badge

        2.6GHz ????

        2.4 is everywhere, just mesh with that. With the Internet shut down there would be less 2.4 interferance and it would work fine.

        It would pick up Alex Jones OK I expect.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Mesh FTW

      Exactly what I was thinking.

      Except there needs to be a P2P social network to run on the mesh... shouldn't be hard to do though.

      Once they redo the routing like they said in an article on here a while back where each router doesn't know the path but only what is near it, then there will be plenty of bandwidth for anything.

      1. Autonomous Cowherd

        Mesh FTW, FTW.

        The undergraduate research project I was part of was to make a secure, dependable storage system for ad hock networks.

        By making each fragment look after its own distribution, you can make stored data very difficult to destroy, without clogging an entire mesh with redundant copies. (like zombies, you have to kill

        I'd love to see a proper self organising mesh network which is truely free! no need to pay anyone to get on it, noone has the power to turn it off. (and we shall call it... Syk-ent!)

        I'd love to see how the topological problems of a dynamic network are solved.

  2. Flybert

    one thing to shut off 4 or 5 ISPs in Egypt

    quite another to shut down the 100s of multi-connected, commercially owned network, routers and DNS servers in the USA or Europe .. the Government would have a hard time even shutting down all it's connections ..

    The banks would be fairly easy, basicly one network to the Fed to clear transactions, goes down occasionally as it is .. however the major commercial data centers have multiple, redundant connectivity .. there is no single nor even dual point of failure in our major cities now .. an email to your neighbor using cable connect can take hops all over the country to arrive at your DSL connect, though it may only take a few hops regionally

    there is no practical reason to shut it down .. a major *cyberterrorism" attack, whatever that could be .. might target specific government-connercial systems, and those that are sensitive to national insecurity should not reside on the public internet, or be accessible-attackable anyway from the public internet

    1. CD001

      Not in the UK

      We're an island - there aren't THAT many pipes going offshore connecting us to the global Internet at large. Want to shut down the Internet in the UK? It's not a single point of failure but it's not that far short as the cables come ashore at only a very few locations.

      1. Flybert

        USA companies can also

        ignore a government order and the government does not man the switches here, the military is not allowed to enforce the laws within our borders ..

        "get a court order" .. and that can still be ignored and appealed

        so I probably misspoke about Europe, depending on the country, that country's laws, and whether that country has the means to force compliance to turn off all the switches

        1. Tom 13

          You sir are sadly mistaken.

          The US government CAN and does CONSTITUTIONALLY posses the power to have the military enforce our laws and government edicts. Congress passes a resolution declaring we are at war or in a state of rebellion at which point the CinC can do pretty much any damn thing he pleases including suspending habeus corpus. At which points military units are deployed to the choke points with the redundancies and the company officials can stare at the wrong end of a gun while being told to pull the plugs. Or the military just pulls out the big wire snips. Or the c4 if they are interested in making a big show of it.

          Most people don't realize that because its only happened twice in our history. The big one was the Civil War, and most people these days focus on the ending slavery part for that one, ignoring some of Lincoln's harsh measures. The other one was a little thing called The Whiskey Rebellion that was personally put down by our very first President.

          Mind you, in that situation a mesh isn't going to hold up well either even though that was part of the original DARPA design. But one of the key elements of that original DARPA design is that it wasn't intended to convey the volume of information the current structure does, only tweet like commands sent to field commanders, and submarine and ship captains.

          All of which makes it rather more in our interest to make sure we don't arrive in a situation where the government would have justification for taking those actions. And keeping an eye on them so they don't lower the bar enough to get away with a false claim.

          1. Flybert

            ok .. under extreme society-has-fallen-apart circumstances ..

            Congress has not declared war since 1941, I think we are a long way from a declaration of Marshal Law ..

            Lincoln did not end Slavery, it was ended for the entire United States by the 13th Amendment on Dec 6, 1865 when Georgia ratified .. though Pennsylvania banned it in 1780 and the importation of slaves into the United States was officially banned in 1808.

            regardless, under today's circumstances and those of the foreseeable future, Corporate America (ATT, Verizon, Google) is unlikely to comply with a shutdown order of it's networks and servers, and will unlikely allow a law permitting the President that power ( as CinC )

        2. matt 83
          Black Helicopters

          Re USA companies can also...

          I'm no expert on the US legal system but I'm pretty sure there are things like "martial law" and "a state of emergency" that allows the government to do whatever it likes in the event of rebellion or invasion.

          Of course keeping the government in line is why you guys also have the right bear arms, but if anyone has more guns than the American public it's the American Army ;-)

          1. fnj

            Not even close

            Actually no. Just no. The US armed forces do not possess a higher count of "guns" than the public. Not even close. But that misses the point. They possess weapons of far higher lethality and effectiveness (heavy machine guns, howitzers, bombs, etc, not to mention nukes), together with staggeringly capable systems to deploy them (aircraft, tanks, etc).

            We are talking a population of 303 million compared to an active military + reserve strength of 3 million. There are over 250 million privately held firearms in the US. The armed forces would not have more than a few million personal firearms.

            1. Roger Heathcote 1


              You think Verizon or AT&T would defy the government and take an armed stand to keep you online?

              That's so far from what would actually happen it's laughable. In the real world they'd get the phone call and everyone involved would do exactly what they're told and you'd be offline in minutes.

        3. Wayland Sothcott 1 Bronze badge


          That thing where soldiers of your country cannot boss you around? I think you will find they got rid of that.

      2. Mark 65 Silver badge


        Correction, there are quite a few pipes going offshore, they just happen to originate in roughly the same spot...

  3. Denarius Silver badge

    the world is getting weird

    When I think Bill Gates understands something and agree with him.

  4. bitten

    free world

    "Next stop: the leader of the free world contemplates its own internet kill switch."

    Who's that? The president of the "They imprison the whole population" US

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Of course.

    You don't need to have an army available in order to turn the internet off. I'm sure UKGov could do that with a few well-placed words (they'd have to, since the army seems to be elsewhere most of the time).

  6. Anonymous Coward


    first off, please forgive my ignorace,

    someone in the government contacted the ISPs in Egypt and told them to turn off the internet, and they complied with the order. Why isn't the same possible in other countries?

    if the UK government issued and order to BT to turn off _its_ network access, can BT really say NO? I understand that they can challenge the order in court, but won't they still cut off the internet anyway?

    To my understanding, the Egyptian government issued the cut off order to all available local ISPs (4 of them) and they did since the order might have been signed by a minster or the president. If the UK government issued the same order to _all_ the local ISPs won't we have the same scenario?

    PS. Egypt must have some remote locations that might be using satellite links, so they surly are still up

    1. EvilGav 1

      Easier than you think . . .

      . . . for the wired network at least.

      The only people you need to contact to shut if off are BT and Virgin, as in both cases they own the buildings powering the backbones - kill the power, kill the web.

      But taking that thought to the next level, why even contact the ISP's ?? Contact the national grid, shut down the *commercial* power to the various buildings and 3G towers. Internet go bye bye, at least as effectively as it did in Egypt.

  7. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

    But of course

    "And yet the Egyptian protests continue - without Twitter and Facebook."

    Of course, once the fire has reached the powder keg, a fuse is no longer needed.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    no title for you, chummy.

    Strange things, governments. The Egyptian one, when confronted with people who might shut the country down, shut the country down. Switching the internet off is perhaps not such a big deal there as it would be here (how would you get your tax return done?), but still.

  9. Raygun3001

    You and Bill are not correct.

    A group of engineers from Twitter, Google and SayNow, created a service to let someone inside Egypt use a phone to leave a voice-mail message that will generate a Twitter message tagged "#egypt." And no Internet access is necessary.

    1. Evil Auditor

      Neither are you, Raygun

      It's not only about posting Twatter messages. The difficult part is how you spread said message within Egypt.

      1. Chad H.


        You can also recieve twitter messages through the same service.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    He should know!

    Microsofts networking protocol is so awful it floods the internet (or internal networks) with rubbish! Just use a sniffer to see all the noise from Windows machines!! Add to that all the Microsoft Windows zombies and spambots flooding the internet.

    Oh, he means switching off routers etc. Ok, everyone knows that, except you cannot switch off the whole internet, just sections ... and they could be worked around. No one country has that much power!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      "Microsofts [sic] networking protocol"?

      The only networking protocol installed by default on current Microsoft operating systems is TCP/IP. Bill would probably be quite proud to be given credit for inventing that.

      If you're thinking of NetBEUI then perhaps you should consider if your views are, perhaps, a little out of date? You may also want to consider which protocols are broadcast-based before mentioning 'flooding the internet'...

      1. Goat Jam

        He is actually correct

        Microsoft do use their own protocols on LANs, they simply use TCP/IP to carry the packets. NetBIOS is still alive and well I assure you. Or do you think all networking protocols need to be on layer 3? Is HTTP a networking protocol?

        I suggest you do what he suggests and take a sniff of a Windows LAN and take a look at the packetstorm flying around between all the Windows machines. Who knows, you might even learn something.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          No he isn't.

          "Microsoft do use their own protocols on LANs". The key words being ON LANs. How exactly does that 'flood the internet'?

          I suggest you look at what actually gets routed to the outside and what doesn't.

  11. Code Monkey
    Gates Horns

    Yes Bill

    Most of us remember Slammer

  12. Semaj
    Big Brother


    But the genie is out of the bottle in terms of people knowing that it is possible to communicate with the outside world through technology.

    If this kind of thing becomes commonplace someone will come along with a "cool idea" (patent pending) which will take the weak link (the government accessible infrastructure) out of the picture.

    Plus you have to remember that information IS still leaking out of their country, mostly facilitated by technology.

    Basically I think that now people have had "free" communication they will circumvent attempts to revoke it. It won't happen overnight or after one clampdown but if they become commonplace it will.

    You can't kill an idea.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Gates: Killing the internet is easy...

    ...when you use internet explorer.

  14. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Egypt: not as internet driven as we thought

    > Egyptian protests continue - without Twitter and Facebook.

    It's a common conceit among the interneterati that the unrest in Egypt either came about, or became significant, due to the effects of masses of people using the internet. It didn't. The unrest had been growing for a long, long time and Egyptians using the internet made practically no difference to the level of unrest within the country.

    What t' 'net has effected is our methods of receiving news. So people wrongly assumed that just because we, in the west, almost require stuff to be fed to us through an internet connection - that the same MUST therefore apply everywhere else. It doesn't.

    More dangerously; we make the assumption that somehow the internet is a sort of anti-establishment tool. That information we get from people "on the ground" makes us somehow closer to the truth and free of government spin and propaganda. In fact, believing information from one unknown, unvalidated and anonymous source is just as likely to be incorrect as believing it from any other. So while we might think that just because we're seen a posting from someone at the riots, that somehow everything they say must be true. Bzzzzzt. It's just as easy for either side to post stuff - we use our own biases and opinions to select which snippets of information we choose to believe, without having any clue abou the big picture.

    I can see a time when, far from cutting off the internet during times of strife, governments will realise that they can manipulate foreign opinion just as easily as protesters - by using their own people, tweeting/FB-ing that the riots are really justa small group of criminals and there's really nothing to worry about. Of course, then human nature takes over. Since we all love a good crisis (especially when it doesn't affect us, directly) we're predisposed to always believe the worst. That means that whichever side can paint the most disastrous stories will easily win our sympathy. Maybe it's time to go back to believing what we experience ourselves and treating everything else with a healthy dose of skepticism?

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Well said that man

      cf. "The Net Delusion" by Evgeny Morozov

      Those with the most resources to take advantage of the internet are the ones who have the most to gain. Net neutrality in its purest form.

    2. Rodrigo Valenzuela
      Thumb Up


      I agree with Pete 2. We are too inclined to believe whatever is posted on the net. Why we give something on the screen such a high grade of trust, is unknown to me and is a very interesting thing to investigate (psychologists, anthropologists, etc.).

      Revolutions don't need fancy communications tools to happen.

      Lets not forget that this communication tool, in whatever flavor you choose, just transmit what you want it to transmit. And what you post is always a personal interpretation and subject to bias. The same thing applies to what you read.

      We have to try to not "deificate"(1) the net and try to present it as something that people can not live without.


      (1) is that a word? I believe not, but my English is not so good, since it is not my native language.

      1. PT


        "Is that a word?" Almost. The word you were searching for is "deify", make into a god. "deificate" is in danger of being mistaken for "defecate", to take a shit.

      2. Gavin King

        Re:Rodrigo Valenzuela & "Deificate"

        In the interest of using the internet for it's intended purpose (the transmission of USEFUL information), may I suggest that the word you wanted, Sr. Valenzuela, was "deify". As in:

        "deify [day-if-fie] v -fying -fied treat or worship as a god. deification n"

        according to Collins Dictionary.


      3. Goat Jam

        "We are too inclined to believe whatever is posted on the net"

        That is bullshit.

    3. Kristian Walsh
      Thumb Up

      Confirmation bias

      People who are deep within a grouping assume that their group's behaviour is representative of the whole world. We form our idea of the world by interacting with our peers, so it's unsurprising that those who write about the Internet, on the internet believe that the internet is a central part of people's lives everywhere.

      It isn't.

      Communication isn't a technology, any more than gardening is a shovel. The technology is the medium, not the message, and as a medium, it can be used to dilute, colour, or even obliterate the message.

  15. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  16. Steve Evans

    Of course...

    Of course it's not hard Bill, the army of infected windoze desktops do a pretty good job of shutting down my email almost every day!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Microsoft's rivalries rely on a stable Internet

    Of course Gates is right. But the reason he is pointing at it is that once the Internet is shown to be unreliable and unstable, cloud applications immediately lose ground to offline applications -- an area where Microsoft dominates.

    Imagine a company relying on "the cloud" in Egypt.

  18. Steve Babb
    Black Helicopters

    Old school solutions

    What's wrong with simply sailing a trawler across the bay in Alexandria and ripping up the cables?

    Seemed to work pretty well in the earlier "trials"

  19. Scott Broukell

    don't just turn it off ....

    switch it over to your (insert $VAR oppressive gubermint) version of the net and make the suckers thinkz they is still chatting wiz each other, then feed them messages about giving it all up.

    1. Pete 2 Silver badge

      And when the dust settles

      collect up all the usernames, nicks, contact info, friends lists and "likes". Find out the real people behind them and start the reckoning.

      BTW. In that case, it doesn't matter which side won, there will be a purge/backlash against those foolish enough to associate themselves with the losers. The internet never forgets you.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    But the internet/facebook/twitter is a double edged sword

    It would be much more beneficial for a government to just demand access to the databases and query:

    SELECT Name,Address FROM UserData

    WHERE InnocentLookingVoteAgainstThisGovernmentPoll = 'yes';

    Sure! This pseudo-code is grossly oversimplifying how it would work. But I'm sure the masses will have, prior to any protest, riot or uprising, have had their say about the topic on twitter/facebook and all the other websites that log IP address, email address and other useful identifying data. And, as this data is retained for extended periods ... need I say more??

    Paranoia at it's best. It is some work, demanding dumps of the databases and correlating for example IP addresses in online polls with ISP's DHCP logs. Work, yes, that I imagine is not above the grasp of the average Reg reader.

    AC and BB, oh irony :p

    1. PT

      double edged sword?

      You would only have to worry about this if the revolution fails, since while it's going on the government has other more pressing things to worry about. It could be considered an incentive for putting one's best efforts into succeeding.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gates is well placed to know...

    ...since he did his damnedest to kill the Internet - or, more precisely, to prevent it from becoming the global communications medium it is today. Twenty years ago, Gates saw it as one of his most important strategic goals to persuade consumers worldwide to subscribe to a proprietary Microsoft network (along the lines of AOL and Compuserve) which would, presumably, have entailed paying for every single transaction. Consumers got access to the Internet from Windows just in time to destroy that tempting vision.

    Since big corporations, like governments, continuously rewrite history, I am confident that no one at Microsoft will admit these facts today. "Only the future is certain; the past keeps changing", as a New Labour back bencher once remarked of Tony Blair's spin regime.

    1. Don Mitchell


      @Tom Welsh, that's complete disinformation that you are simply making up.. I saw the internal memos from Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold in 1994 and 1995, and they were extremely excited about how they would change the internet by flooding it with Windows users. Futhermore, MSN was never a closed proprietary network, it gave open access to the internet from day one. That actually forced AOL to change its policy and open up more. And who even rememers compuserve or prodigy, which tried to remain closed networks.


This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022