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How to survive the five worst technology disasters

What would happen if the internet exploded?


From banks to hospitals to the systems that keep the juice flowing to our homes, we are almost entirely dependent on tech. We look at the effect of the five worst 'tech doomsday' scenarios, such as the entire net collapsing, would have on our lives.

Tech doomsday scenario 3: Google is gone

News flash: Visitors to Google were stunned when the world's dominant website returned a '404 Not Found' error for tens of millions of web searchers.

All Google services - Gmail, Google Docs, AdSense - were inaccessible for periods ranging from hours to days, depending on users' locations.

Google has so insinuated itself into our lives it seems almost unthinkable that we might have to live without it.

Experts consulted for this story agreed that to take down a company as mighty and well fortified would require someone on the inside - not necessarily a malicious Google employee, just a stupid one with the right admin privileges.

It's not entirely unfeasible. Last December, attackers tricked Google employees to visit a malicious website, which then exploited a vulnerability inside Internet Explorer to install an encrypted backdoor into the Google network. From there they accessed the Gmail accounts of Chinese dissidents.

In our doomsday scenario, a Google employee merely installs a rogue application on the network that allows external attackers - say, an unfriendly nation state with a grudge - to slip behind the company firewall.

"The main vector for getting inside most organisations today are rogue applications residing on the network," says Nir Zuk, founder and CTO of Palo Alto Networks, a network security company.

For example: An IT manager installs GoToMyPC on a machine in the data centre so that he can fix problems in the middle of the night from his home.

But it has a weak password and gets hacked. Or he installs a P2P app to download songs, unwittingly allowing outsiders to download confidential files from the company LAN - including password sets and network configuration maps.

Or he sets up WebEx to do a presentation, then foolishly tells the program to share his desktop across the web.

Once inside, attackers could root around the network until they locate the command and control centres for Google's many data centres.

And then they can turn out the lights, leave behind a logic bomb that corrupts Google's databases, or simply have their way.

"I'm not familiar with the structure of Google's network, but they must have a command and control app that lets them shut down their data centres," says Zuk.

"Everyone does."

NEXT PAGE: What could happen if Google goes down

  1. We look at the likelihood of these doomsday scenarios
  2. Britain goes dark
  3. What could happen
  4. Wall Street gets e-bombed
  5. How long would it take Wall Street to recover?
  6. Google is gone
  7. What could happen if Google goes down
  8. The net goes down
  9. What effect would the net going down have on us?
  10. God strikes back
  11. Could we recover from an act of God?

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