It is morning. As you check the news on your smartphone, sip coffee as Alexa gives you the weather, and watch the morning news on your internet-connected TV, stop for a minute and think about the many ways your business also depends on the internet. What would happen if the internet shut down today?
Sounds extreme, doesn’t it? And yet, this exact scenario was identified as our top business risk by the Internet Security Forum (ISF), a nonprofit association that researches and analyzes security and risk management issues.
If you stop and consider all the ways your business operations depend on the internet, you’ll quickly see a potential crisis in the making. From email, data and phone communications, to supply chain management and banking, to cloud-based software and information storage, these critical functions depend on the internet. And most businesses do not have any backup functionality in place.
“We’ve been dependent on the internet for so very long,” says Steve Durbin, managing director of the Information Security Forum. “We’ve gotten to the point where we view it as any other utility. If you suddenly cut off the electricity, it’s a major issue. Corporations have backups in place for other utilities—generators, for instance. No one has really done that for the internet. They just assume it's going to be there.” Even a short, multiple-day or week-long interruption could be costly.
Disrupting the Internet
While we’ve been acting like the internet is indestructible for quite a while, criminals and terrorists have been paying attention to its vulnerabilities. The ISF predicts that nation-states and other groups will seek new ways of causing internet outages—at the local, regional, national and international levels. Wondering what could disrupt the internet? Here is a list of possibilities:
- Physically cutting undersea cables;
- Attacks that render any critical part of the DNS infrastructure or data centers useless;
- Widespread distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks that overload the bandwidth of a targeted system or service; or
- Creative attacks that manipulate internet addresses and routes so that internet traffic doesn’t arrive at its intended destination.
And if terrorist attacks aren’t enough, climate change could also be a culprit—with rising seas putting miles of fiber-optic cables underwater in the next decade and a half.
Business Continuity Planning
What can we do to plan for it? First, every business needs to identify their risks and rethink their business continuity and disaster recovery plans. For instance, plans that rely on employees working from home won’t work if no one has internet service. While there has been much talk of a paperless office, internet failure could turn that into a disaster, depending on where your electronic files are stored.
Here are some tips for consideration:
- Map your business functions and data flows and identify where a non-working internet would stop your business from functioning.
- Identify alternative methods of communication.
- Work with regional and industry bodies to create contingency plans.
- Identify alternative means that could allow business to continue—parts to show up, messages to be received, sales to be made, money to be deposited.
- Assess your suppliers’ contingency plans.
- Consider what types of analog backups (i.e. paper files) might be necessary to ensure business continuity. While external storage is one element of disaster preparedness, onsite availability may be another in the case of an internet outage.
Today, if you need to send a video to someone out of state, you can simply put it into Dropbox and send them a link in an email. In 1982, if a video needed to be sent to someone in New York—and get there the same day—it involved courier service to the Peoria airport, putting a videotape on a plane to New York, then couriering it from LaGuardia Airport to its final destination.
No one wants to return to the analog days of the past. But there might be lessons learned then, which can be used to prepare now.
The Next Black Swan?
The “black swan theory” is a metaphor for an event that catches us all by surprise, has a major impact, and which, afterwards, we appropriately rationalize. The rapid rise of the internet is one example of a “black swan”—a seismic event no one saw coming. It is quite possible that a widespread interruption of the internet might be another.
Only this black swan is one you can prepare for. Did you make a paper copy of that? Maybe you should have. iBi