How would educators respond in case of one black swan event: the internet going down?
I don’t mean when a local provider has issues, or if one’s institution is based in a rural area, or when a campus goes offline for a half day. I’m referring to the possibility of the internet itself crashing at a regional or national level, and for more than a few hours.
Remember, black swans are, by definition, unlikely events that, when they occur, have enormous impact.
Why am I thinking of this particular swan? Leading security guru Bruce Schneier just scared the hell out of many of us with this post. “Someone is extensively testing the core defensive capabilities of the companies that provide critical Internet services… [T]his is happening. And people should know. ”
Schneier’s article is obscure and lacking in details for several reasons (protecting clients and vulnerabilities), but the idea is there. Some actor is pressing hard on the internet’s roots. Read more for speculations.
Let me apply this to education. What would happen in schools if suddenly, say, North America could no longer access the Web? Assume this is a broad attack, so people can’t rely on cell phone coverage, or move to nearby locations (coffee shop, home, public library) for fallback access.
I’m only thinking of the web here, not the internet as a whole, as if DNS servers went down.
What is life like in colleges, universities, libraries, and museums? I asked Twitter, and responses were pretty basic:
If students, faculty, and staff can’t access their learning management system, or enterprise data, or scholarly articles through JSTOR, or social media, or YouTube, how does an institution react?
Imagine if the problem is a little bigger. The attack could take out the internet as well as the web, knocking off email. Or perhaps the attack also hits electrical power supply, either by cyberwar or electromagnetic pulse (EMP). If the attack was launched by a state actor (i.e., China), it could well be accompanied by other technological, economic, or geopolitical stresses.
What contingencies do we now have in place?
NB: remember that this is a black swan, an unlikely event. Don’t get too spooked. Yet.