Worldwide Internet Shutdown: Technical Feasibility, risks and threats

Oct 04, 2023

According to Access Now's most recent study, governments throughout the world imposed more internet shutdowns in 2017 than ever before. In 2022, a record-breaking 187 instances of intervention in 35 different nations were noted. 

This worrying pattern emphasizes the rising frequency and possible severity of Global Internet Shutdown. Understanding the technical viability, related hazards, and impending threats of such massive disruptions is crucial as our reliance on digital connectivity keeps increasing. 

This article offers a thorough analysis of the elements influencing the viability of a Global Internet Shutdown, as well as a detailed analysis of the numerous dangers and risks it brings to our linked world. Let’s get to know more about 🌐 

Defining the Global Internet Shutdown

An internet shutdown is a deliberate disruption of the internet or electronic communications that effectively renders them useless for a certain population or region, frequently to assert control over the flow of information.  

This action, which is frequently carried out by governments or other authorities, can take many different forms, such as limiting access to certain websites, blocking social networking sites, or even turning off internet service altogether. An internet shutdown's main goals are to restrict communication channels, limit the dissemination of information, and shape public opinion. In today's technologically connected society, this coercive approach has profound ramifications for not only individual freedoms but also for the larger socio-political environment, making it a crucial field of research. 

Internet outages can cost a country's economy millions of dollars since they make it impossible for people and businesses to complete online transactions and interfere with online banking systems. Internet shutdowns are predicted to have cost the world economy $23.79 billion. 

Global Internet Blackouts: A Retrospective

Global internet shutdowns serve as striking reminders of the enormous power held by those who govern the digital sphere in the annals of modern history. These crucial times, which were marked by planned global internet service outages, influenced the course of history and left enduring marks on our collective consciousness. Let’s take a closer look at these events. 

— Dyn cyberattack (2016) 

Countries affected: United States and Europe 

Impact: Millions of users of popular sites including Airbnb, Amazon, BBC, CNN, eBay, Netflix and Twitter

It's frequently simple to overlook how interconnected the web is and how dependent the daily use of online information and services is on common underlying protocols. Multiple distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) assaults against systems run by Managed Domain Name Systems (DNS) provider Dyn in October 2016 provided a vivid illustration of this. 

The outbreak, which is believed to be the worst DDoS attack in history, was caused by software flaws in numerous internet-connected devices, including printers, IP cameras, and baby monitors.  

This caused pandemonium for users and cost businesses millions of dollars in lost revenue as hundreds of well-known websites were pulled offline for several hours.  


— British Airways IT failure (2017) 

Countries affected: United Kingdom/global 

Impact: Thousands of passengers globally

Everyone has at some point felt frustrated by an airport delay. Perhaps a bad weather situation or an issue with the traffic signals can cause little confusion and lost hours at the airport terminal. Customers of British Airways faced a far worse situation in May 2017.   

The airline's entire fleet was grounded due to a global IT incident, leaving thousands of passengers stranded on one of the busiest weekends for travel in the UK. What then led to this widespread chaos? An important data center's "uninterruptible power supply" was unintentionally turned off by an IT repair contractor, which led to a power surge that damaged the server.  


— A whole country without connection (2011) 

Countries affected: Republic of Armenia 

Impact: 3 million people

A small republic experienced a complete loss of connectivity in 2011, when a 75-year-old woman mining for scrap metal broke land cables and effectively cut off the majority of the country's connectivity. To add insult to injury, the spade-hacker was actually operating in the adjoining Georgia; she wasn't even Armenian. 


It becomes abundantly evident when we consider these historical occurrences that the threat of a worldwide internet blackout continues to be an important concern in our increasingly interconnected society. It acts as a wake-up call, prompting us to make investments in strong infrastructure, set up global protections, and create backup plans strong enough to endure even the most determined disruptions. 


This interactive map can be helpful in case you would like to get access to new information about Internet Breakouts using a real-time dashboard 🗺️ 

Internet Shutdown Playbook: Tactics Employed by Governments

In an age where connectivity is synonymous with progress, the deliberate shutdown of the internet has become a potent tool in the hands of governments seeking to control information flow and maintain authority. Here, we unveil the methods employed by authorities to enact such disruptive measures:

  • Throttling Bandwidth: Governments can strategically reduce internet speeds to a crawl, rendering it virtually unusable for the affected population. This tactic is often deployed during periods of political unrest or public demonstrations.
  • DNS Tampering: By manipulating the Domain Name System (DNS), governments can redirect users attempting to access certain websites to alternative, often censored, pages or prevent access altogether.
  • IP Blocking: Through filtering or blocking specific IP addresses, governments can restrict access to particular websites or online services, effectively rendering them inaccessible within their jurisdiction.
  • Deep Packet Inspection (DPI): DPI allows authorities to inspect and filter the content of data packets in transit. This enables them to identify and block specific types of online activities, such as messaging apps or social media platforms.
  • Content Filtering: Governments can employ sophisticated filtering systems to target keywords, phrases, or even entire websites that are deemed sensitive or threatening to their interests.
  • Shutdown of Telecommunications Infrastructure: Disabling mobile networks, landlines, and other communication channels effectively severs the ability of citizens to connect digitally, isolating them from the outside world.
  • Legal Mandates and Direct Orders: Some governments enact legislation that grants them the authority to issue direct orders to internet service providers, compelling them to shut down or restrict access to specific online resources.
  • Social Media Blocking: By specifically targeting popular social media platforms, governments can limit the ability of citizens to organize and disseminate information during periods of unrest or protest.
  • Geo-Blocking or Regional Restrictions: Governments can implement geographically-based restrictions, effectively isolating specific regions or cities from the broader internet.
  • Jamming Satellite Signals: In extreme cases, governments may resort to physically jamming satellite signals, disrupting internet access for an entire region.

It is imperative to understand these tactics in order to develop strategies for mitigating the impact of internet shutdowns and safeguarding the fundamental right to access information. By shedding light on these methods, we empower individuals, organizations, and societies at large to advocate for a free and open internet, resilient to attempts at censorship and control.

The Ripple Effects: How Internet Shutdowns Affect Society 

In an era where digital connectivity underpins almost every aspect of modern life, the deliberate disruption of the internet can have profound and wide-ranging effects on society. Let’s explore these effects:

→ Suppression of Freedom of Expression

Internet shutdowns serve as a powerful tool to stifle dissent and suppress freedom of expression. By silencing online voices, governments can control the narrative and limit citizens' ability to voice their opinions.

→ Disruption of Critical Services

Vital services such as healthcare, emergency response systems, and public information dissemination heavily rely on internet connectivity. Shutdowns can impede the timely delivery of crucial information and services.

→ Economic Disruption

In an interconnected global economy, businesses rely on the internet for operations, communications, and transactions. Shutdowns disrupt supply chains, e-commerce, and hinder economic productivity.

→ Impact on Education

With the shift towards online learning, an internet shutdown can severely disrupt educational systems. Students lose access to essential resources, leading to learning gaps and hindering academic progress.

→ Social Isolation

The internet is a vital means of social interaction and community building. Shutdowns can lead to isolation, affecting mental well-being and exacerbating feelings of loneliness.

→ Curtailed Access to Information

The internet is a rich source of information on a wide range of topics. Shutdowns limit access to news, educational content, and resources, impeding informed decision-making.

→ Political Unrest and Instability

Shutting down the internet during periods of political unrest can exacerbate tensions, as citizens are left uninformed and unable to organize or communicate effectively.

→ Inhibited Emergency Response

During crises or natural disasters, the internet is a critical tool for disseminating emergency information. Shutdowns hinder timely responses, potentially putting lives at risk.

By understanding the far-reaching consequences of internet shutdowns, we can collectively work towards safeguarding the accessibility and integrity of the digital space. It underscores the importance of advocating for policies that protect the free flow of information and ensure that the internet remains a force for positive societal transformation.

Contingency Planning: Ensuring Connectivity in Crisis

In an age where digital connectivity is a cornerstone of modern life, being prepared for potential internet breakdowns is crucial. Here are Top 7 Essential rules to ensure you can weather the storm of connectivity disruptions:

Maintain alternative methods of communication, such as landline phones, walkie-talkies, or even shortwave radios. These can be invaluable in situations where internet-based communication is unavailable.

Keep hard copies of vital documents, contacts, and essential information in a secure location. This includes medical records, emergency contact numbers, and critical personal identification.

Invest in offline versions of essential tools like maps, dictionaries, and educational resources. Physical books, atlases, and dictionaries can be indispensable during internet outages.

Ensure you have a reliable backup power source, such as a generator or solar-powered charger, to keep essential devices operational during power outages accompanying internet breakdowns.

Familiarize yourself with basic troubleshooting techniques for devices and networks. This knowledge can be invaluable in restoring connectivity in minor outages.

Establish a communication plan with family members or colleagues that outlines how to reconnect in case of an internet blackout. This could involve designated meeting places or specified contact methods.

Keep an ear to the ground for official updates and announcements from relevant authorities. During internet breakdowns, local authorities may disseminate critical information through traditional media.

By adhering to these 7 preparedness rules, you can significantly enhance your ability to navigate and endure internet breakdowns. Remember, foresight and proactive measures can make a world of difference when it comes to maintaining essential connections in times of crisis. 

In Conclusion

It is crucial to comprehend future internet outages and be ready for them. This article explores the effects of worldwide internet outages, illuminating the technical viability, accompanying dangers, and impending threats. Exploring this phenomenon's many facets, from historical examples to governmental strategies. Also emphasizes the importance of being prepared and offers seven key guidelines for surviving potential connectivity disruptions.  

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