And If The Internet Went Black?

Hacker network Anonymous has vowed to take down the world wide web on March 31 to protest a U.S. anti-piracy bill. Though chances are low they could pull it off, it's worth considering how far-reaching the effect an Internet blackout would be. It

Don't let them pull the plug... (Ian Sane)
Don't let them pull the plug... (Ian Sane)
Ulrich Clauß

BERLIN - On March 31, the Internet is going to be "turned off." Worldwide. That, at least, is what Anonymous, the hacker network, is threatening. What they're calling their Operation Global Blackout aims to protest a controversial U.S. bill – the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) – to protect copyrighted intellectual property around the world.

The threat may be nothing more than bluff – or not. But what would happen if the Internet were to quite simply not be there? Is that even possible? Digital experts canvassed by Die Welt say such a scenario is highly improbable – but possible in principle.

Although there are studies about what would happen if there were to be an electricity blackout, there are no known stuides, government-backed or otherwise, devoted to the possibility of an Internet blackout. Stefan Ritter, head of Computer Emergency Response at the Bonn-based Federal Office for Internet Security (BSI), can only speculate as to why that is.

"We haven't had the 9/11 of IT – in the sense of an event that changes global awareness – yet. But what I can tell you is that, several times already, we've just managed to escape massive IT crises," he says.

The German Internet Exchange (DE-CIX) in Frankfurt/M is also not prepared to dismiss out of hand the possibility of an Internet disaster. The DE-CIX offers IP interconnection infrastructure to over 450 leading Internet providers in 52 countries.

"Nobody can exclude the possibility that the whole DE-CIX platform could fail," says its technical head, Arnold Nipper. Among its massive security measures is the decision to not keep all its computers in one place; and access to its sites is severely controlled.

However, the mathematician adds: "The probability of a blackout is greater than nil. Until now, the question has been: what effect would an energy blackout have on the Internet? Now the question also poses itself: what consequences would an Internet blackout have on the supply of energy?"

One thing is sure: the impact would be huge, even for those who are not connected to the Internet, because the Web has become the backbone for communication for both the public and the private sector, and for individuals. For many, it would mean not being able to place phone calls anymore, or watch TV, as more and more consumers subscribe to IP TV offers.

Nor would cell phones help, because if too many people use them at the same time the network will collapse. And of course without the Internet, no smart phones will function.

Matthias Hollick, security expert at the Center for Advanced Security Research at Darmstadt's Technical University, puts it this way: "In the 1980s, one company had an avant-garde slogan: ‘The Internet is the computer." That's not ahead of its time anymore. Without Internet infrastructure, computers would have only very limited functionality."

Health and welfare

BSI's Ritter says that an Internet blackout could put human lives at risk. Problems could range from late medical deliveries to paralysis of emergency services. "We're making society ever more vulnerable by continually doing away with redundancy, so that we are less robust in the face of any kind of major problems with communication infrastructure."

And to test that robustness you wouldn't even need anything as dramatic as bizarre hacker fantasies à la Anonymous. There are plenty of others reasons to fear for the stability of the Internet, he says.

IT expert Max Mühlhäuser, head of Darmstadt's telecooperation lab, says just one of many other threats could include discovering "thousands of fake routers, manipulated from the outset, that you would have to take out of circulation because they represent an incalculable security risk."

Mühlhäuser warns that the biggest Internet dangers are attacks by organized crime and state-supported cyberattacks. "Violence of those dimensions would be very difficult to overcome," he says.

Also: the economy is increasingly dependent on the net for everything from e-commerce to company intranets. "Public life depends on it," he says.

Internet technology is increasingly important for production and logistics, traffic management, and more. "The Internet is the backbone of all other critically important infrastructures," Mühlhäuser says, adding that the tendency to outsource IT services increases the potential of sabotage.

All experts agree that the Internet is set to be considered part of society's basic infrastructure, as irreplaceable, as electricity and running water.

BSI's Stefan Ritter says: "We're in a transition phase. If there were to be an Internet blackout now, it wouldn't be as bad as it would be say 10 years from now – when we open the doors to our homes with our iPhones, and our refrigerator places replacement orders for food directly via the web. Then the blackout would have as devastating consequences as a major power outtage has now."

Read the original story in German

Photo - Ian Sane

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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