The good news is that although you may have read some overly nervous headlines recently, the sun may not be on the cusp of destroying the Internet. The bad news is, well, it may happen, and we are really not prepared to deal with it.
This concern stems from a recent article entitled Solar Superstorm: Planning the Internet ApocalypseAs Living science It is pointed out that the paper has not been peer-reviewed, but this is still a big problem, although the paper itself is far from the end of the world: it describes the potential large-scale long-term Internet outage as a “black swan event”-a rare, unpredictable event” Can significantly change the course of our lives”-and further pointed out that the most destructive results it describes are based on the worst-case scenario, in which everything can go wrong.
The Internet is vulnerable to a range of threats, including natural disasters, cyber attacks, and other black swan events such as the Covid-19 pandemic. But these threats are minor and relatively small in scale. On the other hand, a major solar storm—coronal mass ejection, if you want to technically speaking—is a more present danger.
What happens is that the sun ejects a large number of highly magnetized particles, and if the earth happens to get in the way, they will interact with our own magnetic field in various interesting ways. Some of these effects are pretty cool, such as the “Magnificent Aurora Display”-perfect for people who don’t want to travel to see the Northern Lights-while others, such as geomagnetically induced currents, are definitely not.
If the solar storm is strong enough, the resulting geomagnetically induced currents can actually cause damage to the long-distance lines that keep us all in touch, especially the submarine lines. The fiber optic cable itself is not risky, but repeaters installed along the line to keep the signal strong enough, if they are disconnected, the cable is practically useless. The exposed communications and GPS satellites will also be shot down, may suffer component damage, and in the worst case may fall out of orbit and fall back to Earth. Shorter regional networks are more likely to be okay, but international communications will be greatly affected: for example, the United Kingdom may maintain connections with nearby European countries such as France, but it will cut off ties with North America.
This is unlikely to happen, but it is not impossible—at the high end, using recent examples, the probability is roughly the same as the probability of Donald Trump being elected President of the United States. “The probability of extreme space weather events directly affecting the Earth is estimated to be 1.6% to 12% per decade,” the paper said. “More importantly, the sun has been in a period of low activity in the past three decades, and it is slowly emerging.”
That period of low solar activity is the same as the period of rapid expansion of technologies such as mobile communications and the Internet, which means that “we have a limited understanding of whether the current infrastructure can withstand the powerful CME.”
This is the whole content of this paper: Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi, author of the University of California, SIGCOMM 2021 conference, Tell wired After seeing the world’s lack of preparation for the Covid-19 pandemic, she began to consider these scenarios.
“There is no protocol that can handle it effectively, and so is the resilience of the Internet,” she said. “Our infrastructure is not ready for a large-scale solar event. We have very limited understanding of the extent of the damage.
“There are currently no models available to illustrate how this happens. We have a better understanding of how these storms will affect the power system, but it all happens on land. In the ocean, predictions are more difficult.”
Thomas Overbye, director of the Smart Grid Center at Texas A&M University, agrees that we don’t have much experience with major solar storms in the digital age—the last major solar storm apparently occurred in 1921—but even so, he didn’t think it would It is as catastrophic as it appears, or it must be the researcher’s top priority.
“I think this is something we, as an industry, of course want to be prepared for. I have been working hard to develop tools to assess risk,” Overby said. “However, there are many other things in the industry that are also important.”
This is a fair point of view, but if the Internet is blown up by “extreme space weather,” many other things may not seem so urgent. Nevertheless, the goal of this paper is not to issue an alarm, but to prompt the necessary agencies to take action: “Focus on this threat and plan to defend against it, just like our initial efforts in this article, are essential to the long-term resilience of the Internet. .”