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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.

What could happen: The internet appears to be down, even though it's not.

Millions of web surfers can't reach the sites they need, or worse, they're misdirected to malicious sites that steal their credentials or their identities.

Attackers reset the servers that keep time on the net, bringing billions of financial transactions that rely on accurate timestamps to a screeching halt.

How long would it take to recover: Two days or longer, in most cases, says Rasmussen.

"Because this is the DNS, it's not hard to undo anything," he says.

"The problem is how long the bad guys tell the DNS system to maintain the records; 48 hours is pretty typical."

The other option: after you discover your domain's been hijacked, get on the speed dial with major ISPs and tell them to update their records.

Even then, you'll still miss smaller ISPs or large enterprises that maintain their own DNS tables.

"It usually takes a pretty big disaster to get people to respond," says Rasmussen.

"That's the problem with a distributed system; when it goes bad it stays bad for a while."

Likelihood: More likely than you think. This has already happened several times on a smaller scale.

In December 2008, Ukranian-based attackers used a phishing attack to gain log-on credentials for Checkfree, an online bill payment system used by more than 70 percent of US banks.

In April 2009, an SQL injection exploit at registrar Domainz.net allowed Turkish attackers to take over the New Zealand sites for Microsoft, Sony, HSBC and Xerox, among others.

The same hackers also took over all of Puerto Rico's domains. This past January the domain for Baidu, the largest Chinese search site, was taken over by a group calling itself the 'Iranian Cyber Army'.

In that case, Baidu filed suit against its US registrar, Register.com, claiming it was slow to respond to the site's plea for help.

How to avoid this fate: "Eternal vigilance?" asks Rasmussen.

"You want to monitor the hell out of what you and other people are doing with your domains and theirs, so you can turn off the system and anything that connects to it if you or someone you trust has a problem."

Some registrars are hardening their defences against hijacking and making it tougher to change DNS records, but mostly it's up to domain owners themselves to police their own records and respond quickly when they've been compromised.

NEXT PAGE: God strikes back

  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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