back to article US lawmakers eye internet 'kill switch'

US lawmakers plan to try once more to equip the president with an internet “kill switch,” a controversial measure that's become even more incendiary following last week's move by Egypt to pull the plug on the global network. In April, when similar bills circulated on Capitol Hill, industry groups warned they gave the president …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Terrorist attack 2012 (why not)

    American gobermint: Oh look we should test out that internet kill switch now, if there was ever a time we should use it it would be now.

    American people: Hey! wtf happened to my Internets! And during a terrorist attack when people need to communicate with LOLcats, what is wrong with you?

    American gobermint: We are just trying to keep you safe, we have your best interests at heart. We are the government etc.

    American people: Splendid, carry on then.

    UK gobermint: Hey that kill switch looks neat can we get one of those?

    Australian gobermint: Me too.

    UK people: Neat.

    Australian people: Neat

    American gobermint: Let's go to war with Iran or NK now... I dunno toss a coin.

    Wikileaks megaleak 2013

    American gobermint: Kill switch. We need use it.

    UK gobermint: Yes. We really should.

    Australian gobermint: Me too.

    American people: Hey!

    UK people: Hey!

    Australian people: We are drowning again.

    American gobermint: They were filthy terrorists.

    UK gobermint: Yes. I can verify this claim.

    Australian gobermint: Me too.

    1. Ubuntu Is a Better Slide Rule

      You Forgot

      Canda gobbermint

      NZ gobbermint

      German gobbermint

      Monsieur Sakozy

    2. pctechxp

      UK wouldn't need a kill switch

      As a good proprtion of the transit links that UK ISPs use are provided by American telcos and of course peering and of course these telcos peer at LINX, LoNAP and MaNAP too, kill these links and the 'net would be pretty much unusable.

  2. Winkypop Silver badge

    Law maker meet Logic

    Logic meet Lawmaker, have you two met before?

  3. M Gale

    Oh screw that.

    Like I mentioned in today's Metro Letters page, the important lesson to learn from Egypt is to resist any attempts to implement this sort of national firewall.

    If are so scared of people hacking the Pentagon, they should take a fire-axe to the lines going into the Pentagon, not the whole bloody country.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      We need to decentralise

      All the major routes into and out of countries have become consolidated into a few high bandwidth links that carry all the traffic.

      We need a few maverick nodes, maybe with dial up connections, however, then they could just kill the phone links too. Sat is out as they are releatively few and controlled as above.

      Amateur Radio and TV? well now we have all been converted to digital and no one has simple analogue receivers any more, no not for the masses. Maybe for a few enthusiasts until they are closed down.

      Welcome to the free world and the information age.....

      1. A J Stiles

        Exactly -- I saw this one coming awhile back.

        Radio may soon be nobody's bomb.

        Building a MW / LW radio receiver is not hard — years ago, nearly every schoolboy did it. Building one that works well under all circumstances is tricky, but amplitude modulation — which is used on the medium and long wave bands — is basically easy. You have a high-frequency carrier signal, which you make get weaker and stronger in time with the audio signal getting weaker and stronger. You feed this into an aerial system, and invisible electromagnetic waves travel away from it in all directions. The person listening has a tuned circuit, which lets through just the frequency of your carrier signal; a rectifier, which converts the high-frequency alternating current into direct current (which is still rising and falling in time with the audio signal); and an amplifier, which boosts the signal enough to move a loudspeaker cone. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, but I don’t want to lose my audience.

        Frequency modulation is a little bit harder. This time, instead of varying the strength of the carrier signal, you vary the frequency Where your oscilloscope trace is above the zero line, you move the peaks closer together; where it goes below the line, further apart. So the frequency of your carrier signal is changing. This isn’t as big a problem as it sounds, because most tuned circuits aren’t perfect; so the one in the receiver will let through frequencies that are within a certain tolerance anyway. You also need a different kind of detector, which responds to changes in frequency as opposed to amplitude; but once you have built that, you can make use of the same power supply, amplifier and loudspeaker as before.

        Doing it with pictures involves another layer of complication since there is no single, universally-accepted way of representing a picture as an electrical signal. And that’s just in mono — don’t get me started on the various ways people have actually transmitted colour pictures. In practice, though, agreements were thrashed out between governments, broadcasters and setmakers on a country-by-country basis, so all the TV sets in any given country worked on the same broadcast standard. And home video equipment works to national broadcast standards precisely so that an ordinary television set can be used to view home recordings.

        Still, the fact remains that anyone with the right knowledge can build a radio transmitter. (Actually using it is another matter; if your signal travels far enough to interfere with other users, you can expect to end up in court. Not much is likely to happen if you build a small, low power transmitter and nobody finds out about it. And if the Rule of Law has already broken down …..)

        But digital broadcasting is a whole other kettle of fish. Even building a digital receiver requires access to proprietary technologies (and this includes mathematical operations over which some people claim to hold patents!), although they may be available under what appear to be generous licencing terms. This is only because the big corporations are aware that in order to sell transmitters, receivers need to be almost given away. Building a transmitter is what requires access to the seriously expensive stuff, and that’s what they aren’t going to let Our Sort near.

        Call it paranoia on my part if you like, but there’s no denying that wholesale adoption of digital broadcasting will end up making it nigh-on impossible to start an underground radio station — and in so doing, will deprive The Population At Large of a potentially extremely useful weapon against a corrupt government.

        1. Ubuntu Is a Better Slide Rule

          Im Falle Der Revolution: Bitte Vorher Bahnsteigkarte Lösen !

          Why do you bother with FM and AM ??

          Read up how DSL modems do it. Hack your own SSE3-based Software Defined Radio with Discrete Multitone Modulation. Cryptographically strong coding; Adaptive Forward Error Correction; Custom Ciphers. That will be the GNU Wireless Revolution !

          In the evening distill your own Schnaps, Vodka or Raki and show the gobbermint inspectors the middle one. You can also try GNU beer. As in "free beer". Ok, I'll stop here :-)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Of course

          Owning a radio or having information about how to build one will clearly come under the heading of terrorist activity.

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Oh screw that

      "the important lesson to learn from Egypt is to resist any attempts to implement this sort of national firewall"

      Er, not really. The important lesson is that Mr Mubarak *still* got given the heave ho.

      There are several reasons for this. Firstly, *his* enemy was the peopl and they were already inside the tent. Secondly, whilst internet services were down, telephones weren't and a few old-fashioned modems can puncture your firewall. Thirdly, if you want to organise a demo within an urban area, word of mouth is sufficient. You don't need to be able to chat to people abroad.

      It's never national firewalls that threaten free speech. It's the credible threat of torture and death at the hands of the local police force. Mubarak has been toast ever since the army said they wouldn't shoot.

  4. Ole Juul

    Security Risk

    It seems to me that this bill would introduce a serious vulnerability.

  5. Neoc

    Can you hear it?

    That recycled catch-cry: "Won't somebody please think of the Internet?"

    Because, obviously, "won't somebody please think of the children?" doesn't make sense. Unless they tie it to spurious anti-paedophilia Acts. And I'll shut up now before I give them any more ideas.

  6. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    An excellent question

    Needed *so* much by the US govt that it must have the capability to kill it.

    BTW when Merkin Senators say things like "Shut down the internet" are they referring to the *whole* internet or those bits they are actually *allowed* to shut down on US territory (admittedly a very large bit)?

    International traffic only? All cross ISP traffic? Everything connection in the US?

    Note. The *real* core of the internet is a group of geographically dispersed *people* who want to communicate either with each other or each others computers.

    *Everything* else is enabling technology available as either open standards, open source software or capable of being handled by re-purposed hardware.

    Legislators forget this at their peril.

  7. whattsamattayou

    Hmm China about..

    So the US wants to get control of teh internet

    Step 1 get a kill switch

    Step 2 shut it down whenever they feel like, and they dont have to tell us why on "grounds of national security"

    Yeh...So anyone fancy moving their internet infrastructure to Ireland....we need teh money..and we wont care what you do...Lots of farms here with big barns could house all teh cisco stuff in the world!!

    Ireland can save the internet!

    1. Ubuntu Is a Better Slide Rule

      @whattsamattayou: Doesn't fly

      b/c you lack ten ICBMs to defend your Island and all the routers against, well, "freedom fighters". Maybe you get in touch with EADS or Vlad the Gazman.

      Here's a sales brochure I got from Vlad:

      He offered it to me in a bundle with 100grams of Polonium.

  8. Mark McNeill
    Big Brother

    Have you tried switching it off and on again?

    Can't have independent media, now can we? It's not exactly unheard of for anti-terrorist legislation to be used to keep the proles down.

    "...the Internet would need to be shut down to prevent further damage to the country, which apparently can no longer function without the Net..." - "In order to save the village, it was necessary to destroy it."

    "...those bills were tabled": I do not think that word means what you think it means. In the UK, to table an issue means to put it on the table for discussion. Where a USAian would say "those bills were tabled", we would say "those bills were shelved".

    1. Charley 1

      That would be tabled

      by the Chair?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    letters, d1g1ts

    Emperor Barack I has assumed the power of life and death over his subjects and people are worried about him switching the internet off?

    If the US is anything like the UK, the govt will be telling people they've _got_ to use the internet for interactions with them, cf tax returns in the UK. Looks like a govt guarantee of an internet connection to me.

  10. Greg J Preece


    So while the rest of the world is condemning Mubarak + co's handling of the riots, US lawmakers are studying the conflict to see if they can learn any lessons in oppression. Sure, this may have been stewing for several years, but the timing is questionable at best.

    Wonder if one of these "cyber emergencies" will suddenly manifest itself this year...

  11. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge


    Internet Kill switch, just let some muppet loose in MAE EAST with a bgp update routing everything to Null0 and you're done.

    Oh, they mean the 'ENTIRE' internet? Well, fuck the US. Who died and made them God?

    They already have the ability to blackhole all US bound traffic at the perring points, just as long as they leave everyone else's advertisments alone. Still, there is a fair amount of stuff on US address space I suppose.

    Seriously, if they are 'under attack' it would be simpler to have a protocol to pull the frigging wires out of the wall at the sounds of the siren yeah?

    1. Jedit

      "Who died and made them God?"

      Well, according to Nietzsche that would be God.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    "And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave...

    ...O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave"

    Seems a little out of date all of a sudden.

    1. Ted Treen
      Thumb Up

      Just plain Mister.

      "And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave...

      ...o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave"

      And who said Americans don't do irony?


  13. Semaj
    Big Brother


    Well we can't have those undemocratic countries outdoing us in the taking away freedoms race can we.

  14. Rainy Rat


    If there's ever an attack against America's critical comms infrastructure, America will be able to respond by disabling its critical comms infrastructure? Wouldn't that just be doing the attackers job for them?

  15. Volker Hett

    FIDO Net is relevant again.

    And that good old Heathkit AR-3 and AT-1

    Mine's the one with the HAM Radio license.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Gubermint looks for off switch for the internet,

      Internet looks to wireless packet switching web.

      I guess the lack of a high speed backbone would introduce a lot of latency, but the proliferation and density of wifi should make it almost possible to create a wireless web these days, might upset the service providers though.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    It's never going to happen, it's just not. Too much relies on the Internet and there is also the slight matter of curtailling freedom of speech and right to association and rights to form and operate a political party.

    There may well be certain targetted areas which are able to be switched off - certain links moving certain traffic, but a general kill switch is just not going to happen.

    1. Ted Treen
      Big Brother

      History again...

      "...the slight matter of curtailling freedom of speech and right to association and rights to form and operate a political party..."

      All I can say to that is:-

      Senator McCarthy

      Students at Kent State University

      Just about any non-white person in Alabama from the mid 1800's to at least the present day.

      Laws ans Constitutions count for bugger all when it comes to the ruling elite; such niceties only exist to give us a comfortable illusion about mattering a damn to our supreme overlords...

  17. Al fazed

    Web 3 perhaps

    F*ckin' hell, talk about thick Americans !

    Stroll on.

    Egypt down, Tunisia going down and oh look, America, tits up.


  18. spodula

    What the heck is..

    a "Cyber emergency"?

    Attack of the worms? Pretty much every site on the internet gets attacked by worms on an amost constant basis. Most of them get ignored. (Just chuck SSHD or apache on a forward facing server, and watch those logs fly!)

    Saying that, it does amuse me just how many companies allow critical infrastucture access to the internet. I cant think of any reason why a computer controlled CnC machine has any business needing network access, never mind internet access. (Its usually so some engineering type doesnt have to bother with the hassle of a floppy disk)

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: What the heck is..

      "a "Cyber emergency"?

      Attack of the worms? Pretty much every site on the internet gets attacked by worms on an amost constant basis. Most of them get ignored. (Just chuck SSHD or apache on a forward facing server, and watch those logs fly!)"

      Indeed- my domain used to be self hosted, and for the longest time I had a terminal doing a tail on my httpd logs. fully 90% of my traffic at one point was worms, trojans, and other miscreants looking for holes.

      I have this nasty, ugly feeling that if El Presidente were to get an internet kill switch and use it, Bad Things would happen worldwide. (By bad things, meaning civil war, etc.)

      Anon for somewhat obvious reasons.

  19. Paul_Murphy

    What can I say without sounding like an anti-american terrorist?

    Idiots, dolts, nincompoops.

    So, the terra-wists release a trojan which, unlike ALL the other worms, trojans, adware, malware, virii (viruses?) etc. is deemed to be a danger to the (sorry - 'their') internet. in response they would shut down 'the internet' - or their bit of it anyway?

    So depriving all of their citizens access to anything on-line - shopping, banking, email and information (I would have put that first in the list but we are talking about the merkins) .. excuse me

    short-sighted, blinkered cretins.

    Ok - well I guess it would help to improve the average IQ on the internet, but it's not a solution.

    A solution would be to ensure that there is sufficient diversity on the internet to make sure that a particular attack would only be able to spread so far - make it compulsory for people to have Linux boot CD's (because lord knows Microsoft doesn't want you to boot off a CD!), keep developing free anti-virus etc. software so that people can use it no matter how poor they are.

    Educate people - keeping them ignorant and in the dark may suit a governments' agenda but it doesn't work in the long term.

    America used to be a shining beacon of hope and asperation - now it seems to be trying to turn itself into a police state as quickly as it can.

    Not that the UK isn't heading that way itself of course, sad times.


  20. Steve Evans


    Do they mean shut down the net for everyone, or just disconnect the USA from the rest of the planet?

    I'm not even sure if they could shut down the net for everyone, although I'm sure screwing root DNS servers and poisoning some major US routers would have a significant impact on the rest of the world.

    If they just want to disconnect the USA, well I could live with that. Amazon/Google etc all have internationally distributed systems, so they should be fine, and the volume of spam being pumped into my inbox by Billy-Bob and his infected PC should drop rather nicely.

    This is all theory of course, how about giving it a test run?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Surely teh legislation already exists:

    "“My legislation would provide a mechanism for the government to work with the private sector in the event of a true cyber emergency,” Collins told the publication. “It would give our nation the best tools available to swiftly respond to a significant threat.”"

    If there was a true cyber emergency then either existing legislation would be usable to compel companies to do what they are told (for example in response to an "act of war"), or it would just be absurd for companies to refuse to do as asked (such as to isolate Skynet before it manages to glow us all) without seriously damaging their reputation and bottom line.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    The old joke...

    Reminds me of the old joke about the body part arguing which is the most important. The brain for thinking, the Heart for pumping the blood. Ulimately it turns out it's the anus, since if it stops working, everything gets blocked up and can't function.

    Switch off the bothersome anus of an Internet at your peril. You really have NO IDEA what traffic routes over it. The Internet is not Facebook and Twitter. It is our banks and supermarkets. Who install dedicated expensive lines at £1,000 a month when you can get three ADSL lines from three different providers for £30/month. Which do you think our price competative banks and supermarkets choose?

    Selectively turn it off? - forget it, you can't fart against thunder.

    Think I'm over stating it? The Internet is now Skynet - it cannot be turned off without SERIOUS consequences. In developed Countries, the Internet is now the backbone for EVERYTHING.

    Forget turning it off, you now have to build better defences to protect it.

  23. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Stop the rot!

    Anyone who writes internet with a capital "I" is obviously a moron. "Cyber emergency", FFS. Methinks these people watch too much Caprica and not enough Wag The Dog!

    1. Vic

      You'd need to work out where the rot is first...

      > Anyone who writes internet with a capital "I" is obviously a moron

      Anyone who writes Internet with a capital "I" obviously knows the difference between "the Internet" and "an internet".

      And that's the thing with this idiotic proposal - it really isn't difficult to build your own internet, it's just difficult to get access to everyone else's networks. But there's no reason why any particular network shouldn't simultaneously peer with more than one compatible internet...


  24. Dazed and Confused

    no judicial review?

    I can't see their Supremeships accepting that the Interweb doesn't constitute a freedom of speech issue and take a the idea that they can be told to butt out.

  25. Antony King

    Post your own message

    "some evil worm or attack on the National infrastructure" - like, one that targes the internet kill switch for example? See

  26. Owen Carter

    Dont they have friends...?

    If they were to just get some good friends like Vodafone (to pick a random example) then they would not need this switch since their Friends would do it for them (no doubt in return for a tax concession or two).

  27. Ubuntu Is a Better Slide Rule

    How The People Defend Themselves

    A) Soupcan WLAN Mesh networks

    B) Microwave long-distance links

    C) "rogue" broadband, directed HF links. Directly wire a Pentium Processor to a DAC/ADC and use SSE3 to create a software radio. Send at 19 to 21 MHz across any ocean with 5 kW of power. It should easily yield a multi-megabit/s link.

    D) Blast VHF at the moon to perfom broadcasting of critical information. Also a software radio using SSE3 to thwart simple jamming.

    Remember, Shannon proved that total jamming is not possible.

    أثبت شانون تذكر ، أن مجموع التشويش غير ممكن.

  28. Anonymous Coward

    Bloody pedants

    Isn't it the internet as in the national grid or the sky? Distributed system all, even if there is only one. Gawd, I have spent far too much of my life writing style guides.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Calmed down

    What you are seeing is a few nuts trying to make head lines. Corporate America will remind their puppets not to mess with their money.

  30. EvilGav 1


    The last major terrorist attack on US soil (11th September), saw much infrastructure collapse in the surrounding area (mobile phones and the like).

    This is, no doubt, the sort of thing that would be used to press that big red button.

    However, during that fateful day, the only way I could keep in contact with friends in the area was via IRC, using an internet connection.

    That was nearly a decade ago. Do these cretins think we're more or less reliant on that technology today ?

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cyber emergency

    Like what... can't download porn???

    Or maybe someone hurt your feelings???

    Like my country doesn't have enough stupidity to deal with and we're adding more.

  32. Anonymous Coward

    Yes, my "leaders" are morons.

    There are days when I really wish I'd been born Canadian.

    1. twburger

      So are mine

      We have the same type of idiots running things here in the Great White North. At least we already have universal health care.

  33. Tom 13

    Nice to see all the strawmen coming out.

    While I don't like the legislation, there is a case for having an internet kill switch.

    Yes, you can protect some of the comms infrastructure from permanent damage by taking them offline before they are hit. Yes, you lose the functionality, but with everything down you have a shot at cleaning out the virus in a shorter time than it took to clean up that hospital El Reg was going on about last year.

    Moreover, the comms infrastructure isn't the only infrastructure that can be protected by killing the internet. You have the power grid as well. Yes, I know critical infrastructure like that shouldn't be connected to the internet. But it is so planning needs to account for that. Furthermore, we know Siemens C&C systems are compromised (possibly by the same government now looking for a kill switch) and the bad guys have samples of that.

    So the problems are real. And the solution while drastic will work. Which means pooh-poohing their efforts is only going to redouble their determination to move forward.

    What is needed instead are proposals that increase the robustness of security for those critical systems on the internet. Given how much we'd all benefit from them and how inventive private companies can be, I'm not sure there are any out there. But if someone has some constructive and affordable solutions, I'm all for hearing them.

  34. Ubuntu Is a Better Slide Rule

    @Tom 13: Who Is Feeding You ??

    Siemens Systems are in no way "compromised". Someone wrote a virus to attack Siemens SCADA running on Windows NT. They used several weaknesses in NT and Siemens software.

    These systems should have been tightly controlled by Iranian security in the first place and it would have never mattered that they are not totally secure. That's standard practice in the west for at least 20 years now.

    I expect the Hoover dam control systems to be behind 1 BSD firewall, 1 SE Linux firewall, 1 Cisco firewall and all secured with SSL/SSH and custom certificates. The control system does not run Facebook, even if the operators are bored the whole day.

    In case of emergency, someone pulls those two DSL lines which connect to the outside. DONE.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Why interconnect critical control systems?

      The better question is why are the control systems even connected to the outside? (assuming it's computer controlled) Wouldn't it be much better/more secure to simply have 2 systems side by side, unconnected to each other, with the one dedicated to control, and the other being for general internet/network... use?

      1. Ubuntu Is a Better Slide Rule

        The Hoover Dam...

        is probably part of a bigger grid where power generation/consumption must be managed. This is probably done by a centralized management facility and interconnected via an encrypted VPN.

        I have yet to see reports of VPNs being hacked. All I have seen are rather amateurish security being exploited (USB ports open, CD Burners exploited, foreign PDFs opened on SCI computers and similar stuff).

        But maybe the "please generate X Megawatt power" signal could be displayed in a "networked" computer and then being manually "transmitted" to the Hoover Dam control system. That would surely be maximum security.

        Those who are slow in their brainworks, please use the above text and replace "hoover dam" by <any critical network facility>. Including nuclear power stations and water processing facilities.

  35. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Remember that Merkin politicians are less under party control that other countries

    They can pretty much knock up a bill on a whim. Their staff will probably do most of the "writing" (or rather one of their stuff who goes on to a nice job with Big Music having inserted a few choice clauses in the case of the DCMA. Thanks to JP for that little anecdote)

    It can be as stupid as they like.

    It can have a load of irrelevant clause included.

    How *far* it gets depends on the support of *individual* Senators and Congress persons, party support (I'd guess a fair number of these "leaders" do just what their party tells them in any event). quality of the holiday (or important "fact finding" tour as they described it in their expenses) they arranged for the other members of a committee the chaired etc.

    And of course how much the big investors (or "contributors" as politicians like to call them) in their campaign "contributed" to others in the relevant House.

    Mine would have a copy of "The Power Game" in the pocket.

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