Tuesday, March 4, 2008

How one clumsy ship cut off the web for 75 million people

As technology weaves itself more and more into the fabric of human reality, becoming, connecting, extending, and reflecting us - we must remember how vulnerable such a system is.

As fragile as the creatures who created it?

Are we likely to impede our remarkable technological evolution with human deficiencies as old as the Chimpanzees we've come from?

How one clumsy ship cut off the web for 75 million people

A flotilla of ships may have been dispatched to reinstate the broken submarine cable that has left the Middle East and India struggling to communicate with the rest of the world, but it took just one vessel to inflict the damage that brought down the internet for millions.

According to reports, the internet blackout, which has left 75 million people with only limited access, was caused by a ship that tried to moor off the coast of Egypt in bad weather on Wednesday. Since then phone and internet traffic has been severely reduced across a huge swath of the region, slashed by as much as 70% in countries including India, Egypt and Dubai.

While tens of millions have been directly affected, the impact of the blackout has spread far wider, with economies across Asia and the Middle East struggling to cope. Governments have also become directly involved, with the Egyptian communications ministry imploring surfers to stay offline so business traffic can take priority. "People who download music and films are going to affect businesses who have more important things to do," said ministry spokesman Mohammed Taymur.

But as backroom staff at businesses across the globe scrambled to reroute their traffic or switch on backup satellite systems, experts said the incident highlighted the fragility of a global communications network we take for granted.

"People just don't realise that all these things go through undersea cables - that this is the main way these economies are all linked," said Alan Mauldin, the research director of TeleGeography. "Even when you're using wireless internet, it's only really wireless back to your base station: the rest is done over real, physical connections."

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