Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

How the Internet Responded

October 2001

By Mike Gould

This is being written on a beautiful Sunday morning 9/16/01, scant days after the World Trade Center disaster. I'm sitting in my basement, window open, Arwulf and Fats Waller on the radio, trying to grapple with it all.

What happened online The Internet as a whole was originally designed to withstand a nuclear war, and it survived this attack well. All the servers and network hubs directly within the towers are gone, but traffic continues to flow through New York. While the WTC was a major user of the Internet, there were no "peering points" - major interchanges between networks - there, so traffic was not interrupted.

Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the attack, email proved to be the most reliable means of communication. Most local phone service, especially wireless services, were quickly overwhelmed in New York, but those who could reach the Internet by modem or network were able to contact family and friends via email and instant messaging. Most of the problems were related to the unprecedented number of calls to New York, not physical damage to phone lines. The wireless problems were directly related to the disaster, as Verizon lost 10 wireless transmitters that had been serving lower Manhattan.

Some high-profile online news services were overwhelmed by masses of people logging in to get the latest news. In response, CNN and the New York Times changed their front pages, drastically reducing the number and resolution of pictures. This enabled their pages to download faster, easing the crunch. At the peak of the disaster, ABCNews.com, CNN.com and NYTimes.com were inaccessible between 9am and 10am. By afternoon, most sites had returned to normal.

The issue was one of hardware and not bandwidth; the slowdowns were largely due to overloaded servers, rather than maxed-out wires.

A plethora of sites started mirroring the news; providing copies of items from other, more-mainstream sites. Everyone started providing buttons leading to the Red Cross and other agencies. Major business sites responded in various ways, with some offering a portion of their online sales to the Red Cross. Apple Computer put up a full-page notice on the front page of its site, with buttons to relief agencies below.

Sites have been set up to help register survivors and provide support for those in need. 5 registries were set up on the day of the disaster by non-governmental sources, beating efforts by the Red Cross and the White House by several hours. All the technical chat groups I belong to are being taken over by discussions of the event, and the support from those in other countries has been heartening.

There were no indications of any sort of cyber-attack. No new viruses were released, no government sites were attacked, no major fiber lines were attacked. Yet.

American Express moved their online banking operations to a site in New Jersey, which was set up as a response to the WTC bombing several years ago. Other financial and business organizations are scrambling to activate back-up plans and progressing in the recovery of their operations.

Have you made backups of all your important business data and moved these files to another building, maybe another state? Might be a good time to start if you haven't; we are in for a long period of, well, war.

Suddenly, Everything Is Different America's enemies have focused their first attacks on the heart of American capitalism; other attacks are probable and will continue to target the financial and commercial interests of this nation. As the economic interests of this country are now inextricably linked via the Internet, attacks via this vector are to be expected. The latest Internet attack (Code Red) seems to have emanated from a University in Guangdong, China, and was almost certainly not part of the WTC terrorist attack. Those of you who were interested in my last article on the Code Red and SirCam viruses will find a GAO report about these at:

http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d011073t.pdf

We are now at war and many things will change. The first of many changes will be the disappearance of online privacy. Efforts are now underway (and will probably be final by the time you read this) to fully unleash the Carnivore system on the email servers of the US. According to Wired.com:

"The FBI's controversial Carnivore spy system, which has been renamed DCS1000, is a specially configured Windows computer designed to sit on an Internet provider's network and monitor electronic communications. To retrieve the stored data, an agent stops by to pick up a removable hard drive with the information that the Carnivore system was configured to record."

The FBI showed up at a number of Internet sites the day after the disaster to install their monitoring computers into machine rooms.

The Echelon system is similar, although international in scope. It monitors international email looking for suspicious key words and the like, according to reports from various European sources. Do a Google search on "carnivore" and "echelon" if you are interested in this.

Here at MondoDyne, life goes on, subdued.
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and stay connected.

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