Have you ever thought about what would happen if the whole world’s internet was shut down for an extended period of time? What about just your area? Like some epic Hollywood disaster movies, the dangers to society are real. What is an Internet Apocalypse?
An Internet Apocalypse is an internet shutdown event that could keep large sections of the world’s population offline for weeks, months, or years. This internet shutdown could be caused by a severe solar event, power grid failure, hacking, your government, or a nuclear weapon.
We will discuss in this article the real-life ramifications of a global internet shutdown caused by one of these events. If you are interested in this information, please read on.
The Concept of an Internet Apocalypse
The world is entirely dependent on the internet today and our electronic connectivity. Every day we use the internet for online banking, e-mail communication, and e-commerce, just to name a few.
A Pew Research Study from 2021 states that “About three-in-ten or (31%) of U.S. adults say they are almost constantly online.”
The world’s electronic systems are structured, and the internet is the backbone of connectivity for modern society. Most people have no understanding of what would happen if the internet was shut down for an extended period of time.
We also now have the Internet of Things (IoT) which is a network of physical devices that have sensors and or software embedded in the object itself. The object is connected by IoT, exchanging data with other devices and systems over the internet or networks.
These IoT devices range from smart home appliances like your refrigerator and electronics to medical, healthcare, industrial, and infrastructure devices and military applications. With more than 12 billion connected IoT devices today, according to IoT Analytics, this number is expected to grow to 27.1 billion by 2025.
An internet apocalypse will shut all of this down. Our Internet is under constant threat from hackers, power grid failure, or some of the scariest of all, a geomagnetic storm or a nuclear war EMP so powerful they could shut down the whole world’s power grids and internet for days, weeks, months, or years.
The Internet and Danger of a Geomagnetic Storm (CME)
There are many times behind the scenes that Geomagnetic Storms are raging on the sun, also known as Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs). Coronal Mass Ejections are large discharges of solar plasma and magnetic fields from the Sun. These sun ejections can discharge billions of tons of coronal material in a single event.
These CMEs also carry an embedded magnetic field frozen in flux with the plasma. This is Alfvén’s Theorem, also known as (frozen in flux), and means that the magnetic field lines move with the fluid (plasma), and the field lines are frozen into the sun’s plasma.
NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) or Spaceweather.com is constantly monitoring and predicting many minor G1 geomagnetic storms. A G1 level geomagnetic storm can cause weak power grid fluctuations and negligible satellite operations impact and are not very strong.
A high-level category G5 geomagnetic storm could cause worldwide electrical grid and internet systems to collapse as well as extensive satellite surface charging. This type of storm can also cause a breakdown of High Frequency (HF) radio communication and low-frequency radio navigation systems, according to NOAA’S Space Weather Scales explanations.
NOAA Space Weather Solar Geomagnetic Storm Scale
|Scale||Desc.||Effect / Reaction|
|G5*||Extreme||Power systems: Some power grid systems may experience complete collapse or blackouts. Transformers may experience damage.|
Spacecraft operations: May experience extensive surface charging, problems with orientation, uplink/downlink, and tracking satellites.
Other systems: HF (high frequency) radio transmission may be impossible in many areas for days or more.
|G4||Severe||Power systems: Possible widespread voltage control problems and some protective systems will mistakenly trip out key assets from the grid.|
Spacecraft operations: Possible surface charging, tracking, and orientation problems.
Other systems: HF radio propagation sporadic, satellite navigation degraded for hours, low-frequency radio navigation disrupted.
|G3||Strong||Power systems: Voltage corrections may be required, and false alarms triggered on some protection devices.|
Spacecraft operations: Surface charging and drag may increase on low-Earth-orbit satellites, and corrections may be needed for orientation problems.
Other systems: Intermittent satellite navigation and low-frequency radio navigation problems may occur, and HF radio may be intermittent.
|G2||Moderate||Power systems: High-latitude power systems may experience voltage alarms, and long-duration storms may cause transformer damage.|
Spacecraft operations: Corrective actions required and possible changes in drag affect orbit predictions.
Other systems: HF radio propagation can fade at higher latitudes.
|G1||Minor||Power systems: Weak power grid fluctuations can occur.|
Spacecraft operations: Minor impact on satellite operations possible.
Other systems: Migratory animals are affected at G1 and higher levels.
What Can a G5 Level Geomagnetic Storm Do to the Earth?
The earth’s sun’s geomagnetic storms and solar flares are naturally occurring events. Most NOAA Geomagnetic Scale 5 level storms (G5) do not cause catastrophic damage to the electric grid. We do know that another G5 magnitude Geomagnetic Storm is going to strike the earth again for sure one of these days, as it already has many times in the past.
The Carrington Event in 1859 is believed to have been a G5 level or greater Geomagnetic Storm and was one of the most intense in history. At the time, the most sophisticated electronic technology in use was the telegraph communication system which failed in North America and Europe. That would be equivalent to the internet, telephones, and telecom equipment of today collapsing.
According to NOAA, on average, G5 Geomagnetic storms hit the earth about four times during every 11-year earth solar cycle. There will be a time when a G5 geomagnetic storm like the July 2012 Solar Superstorm “near miss” will hit and cause worldwide electronics on the ground and in space to collapse. It can cause power grid shutdowns, an “internet apocalypse,” and a global financial catastrophe that no one is prepared for.
A G5 Geomagnetic Storm can cause interference with global communications, long-range radio, and GPS systems (global-positioning systems). On the earth, these events can result in power grid surges, which can lead to electrical power blackouts.
The damage to the earth and worldwide economy from a G5 Carrington Class Geomagnetic Solar Storm could cost trillions of dollars, and the repair of the planet’s infrastructure could take a decade or more.
To sign up for NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center Product Subscription Services and get updates and warnings about potential solar activity, use the above link.
Global Infrastructure That Could Be Shut Down by a Catastrophic Solar Event
- Electrical power grid failures
- Electrical systems that do not have backup power
- All systems requiring electricity
- Communication, land, and mobile telephone systems
- Traffic signals
- Transportation aviation, rail, and mass transit
- Fuel distribution systems
- Heating and air conditioning
- Electrical lighting
- Water, sewage, and wastewater treatment systems
- Computer systems
- Perishable foods
- Food transportation
- Medication distribution
Please see our article “What To Do Before a G5 or Greater Geomagnetic Storm?” with resources and suggestions.
Short List of Geomagnetic Storms – Solar Flare Events Through History
- A.D. 774 – Miyake Event Solar Flare above level R5 or X20
- A.D. 993 -994 – Solar Flare
- 1859 – Carrington Event Geomagnetic Storm G5 Level or Greater A solar storm that hit earth so powerful that, if it occurred today, could shut down worldwide electronics and power grids and greatly impact the lives of billions of people. Telegraph operators reported that their telegraphs worked without electrical power.
- 1921 – The Great Geomagnetic Storm of May 1921 The largest geomagnetic storm of the 20th Century occurred in May of 1921.
- 1972 – A multitude of large solar flares and four coronal mass ejections (CMEs) impacted Earth within a dangerous six-day span during the first week of August 1972. More than two dozen U.S. Navy mines were unintentionally detonated within a 30-second period and were thought to be caused by this geomagnetic storm.
- 1989 – Two coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are the cause of a major geomagnetic storm and triggered a major power blackout in Canada that left 6 million people without electricity for nine hours in 1989. Two major solar flares are associated with the CMEs and are considered the precursor.
- 2003 – Halloween Solar Storms of October 2003 were the result of 17 major solar flares on the sun that caused enormous solar storms.
- 2012 – A coronal mass ejection (CME) comparable to the Carrington Event flew by the earth’s orbit with a near miss in July 2012. CMEs can only cause damage when the earth is in the direct path. According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the total economic impact if it hit the earth could exceed $2 trillion dollars.
- 2022 – SpaceX launched and lost 40 of 49 satellites in February 2022 as part of its Starlink internet project. The cause of this unprecedented satellite loss was solar flare activity from a “full halo coronal mass ejection” and cost more than fifty million dollars.
Other Causes of the Internet Closing Down
Is solar weather the only way the internet could be shut down? There is a multitude of ways the world’s internet can get interrupted or turned off.
Power Grid Shutdown
As we discuss and explain Power Grid Shutdowns in our article “What Happens if the American Power Grid Goes Down?” a 2013 report titled Solar Storm Risk to the North American Electric Grid from Lloyd’s of London states:
“The total United States population is at risk of an extended power outage from a Carrington-level storm ranging between 20-40 million with durations up to 1-2 years.”Solar Storm Risk to the North American Electric Grid from Lloyd’s of London
Can you imagine nine or ten years later, infrastructure still being rebuilt, with the growth of the world’s population, power grids, and internet expansion? Globally, the number of Internet users increased from only 413 million in 2000 to five billion in 2022, which is 63 percent of the global population, according to Statista.
If the world’s power grids were somehow shut down for any extended period of time from something like a solar geomagnetic storm or solar electromagnetic pulse (EMP), there would be worldwide starvation and a collapse of civilization within months of the event and could ultimately result in the death of up to 90% of the American population.
Hacking the Internet
Hackers are constantly becoming more sophisticated with abilities, resources, and boldness. There is hardly a day that goes by that you cannot find some incident or some news article where someone was held ransom or some foreign entity has hacked a company, country, or government.
A Cyberattack on the company SolarWinds in 2020 that affected thousands of government agencies and companies is a good example of the sophistication of today’s hackers. As discussed in the article “Why The Latest Cyberattack Was Different” by Robert Muggah for Foreign Policy, the size of the hacking was unprecedented.
The Trojan Horse-style infectious malware called Sunburst infiltrated entities such as the United States government’s departments of Defense, all five branches of the U.S. Military, and the National Nuclear Security Administration. It also affected the U.S. Homeland Security, Treasury, Energy, and State Departments.
Initially, the infected version of the virus was installed on 18,000 SolarWinds customers but spread from there. It included companies like Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, Deloitte, Equifax, MasterCard, and even the State of Nevada DMV. This shows the vulnerability of the internet systems and the protections available.
ICANN Internet Overseer
In some far-off Austin Powers-James Bond-type villain scenarios, there is actually the backbone of the structure of the internet to consider. ICANN is the “Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers” and helps coordinate the Internet’s DNS or domain name system and IP addresses.
According to ICANN, their role with the internet is to: “oversee the huge and complex interconnected network of unique identifiers that allow computers on the Internet to find one another.”What Does ICANN Do?
DNS provides an alphabet letter addressing system for the Internet so humans can find websites and is also the basis for email and many other online uses. Computers use IP Address numbers to communicate with each other both over the internet as well as on other networks. It is not possible for there to be two IP addresses the same.
There are only 13 IP addresses on the Internet where root servers can be found, and these special servers act as the Internet’s address books. The very important operators of the root servers remain autonomous while working with one another and ICANN.
The Seven ICANN DNS Keys
The Seven ICANN DNS Keys belong to just one single part of the Internet, and that is for authenticating the data in the DNS domain name system. It works with a ranking of cryptographic keys, which ICANN manages for the root of the DNS system.
Now even though ICANN says that these seven keys are just one part of the internet and the Cryptographic Officers and Recovery Key Share Holders who control the seven keys would all have to be inside the ICANN secure facility, and the safe holding the backup smart cards would have to be open for the system to be compromised.
This is where the story gets interesting, and the Austin Powers-James Bond part comes into play. You and I know that anything is possible no matter how unlikely, and if only one part of the internet goes down like the DNS for an extended period of time, the Internet still does not work.
If the whole internet is protected by seven highly protected keys and the other parts mentioned have the same types of protected measures, well, you just never know, do you?
Government internet shutdowns are on the rise globally in many foreign countries. A country’s internet can be shut down for days, months, or years. Corrupt governments utilize internet shutdowns during elections, protests, political turmoil, and coups.
An internet shutdown by a government can mean a complete block or blackout of the country’s internet, and they also throttle (slow down) bandwidth speeds, block certain platforms, and limit mobile services. Bandwidth speed throttling is very hard to detect or to assign purpose or blame for the culprit.
Countries like Russia, China, and India, among many others, shut down their internet when it is in the Government’s best interests as they see fit. There is also the likelihood of a split internet as Russia and China build their own internets.
An internet shutdown has never happened in the United States or free countries in the west yet and usually only occurs in authoritarian regimes or socialist states countries.
Terrorist Nuclear Weapons / Nuclear War EMPs
The threat of terrorist or nuclear attacks or war is always a reality in today’s world. An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from a nuclear explosion will disrupt telecommunications and power distribution. The nuclear detonation EMP interferes with and shuts down electronic equipment.
If a nuclear ground detonation causes an EMP electromagnetic pulse, it can drive an electric current through underground wires causing local damage to your community. If a nuclear detonation EMP is released at a high altitude in the sky over a city or your area, it can cause widespread disruption to electronic equipment and networks.
It is estimated that the amount of time the president of the United States would have to make a decision regarding the launch of a U.S. thermonuclear missile response to an attack is 12 minutes.
A much more serious side effect of a nuclear warhead exchange will be a social collapse, famine, and the breakdown of much of the planetary biosphere. There are 15,000 nuclear weapons on the planet, and it only takes 100 to destroy the planet and life as we know it.
The Collateral Effect of Thermonuclear Weapons
The collateral effect of a small nuclear exchange between two countries like India and Pakistan with only a few hundred weapons the size of the Hiroshima Bomb. The exchange would cause the burning of cities, forests, paper, the clothes you are wearing, hair, and skin. The smoke created from the exchange would take about two weeks to cover the earth.
The smoke from a nuclear exchange would rise to altitudes between 20 and 50 miles, and the smoke would stay there for years. Also, for years afterward, crops around the world will die from bad weather, lack of light, and cold temperatures. The entire world only has enough food to supply for 60 days unless agriculture is continually producing.
The most powerful thermonuclear weapon, fusion weapon, or hydrogen bomb in the United States nuclear arsenal is a B83 variable-yield thermonuclear gravity bomb that could produce a blast of 1.2 megatons and is 75 to 80 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb.
So, in addition to the loss of the electronics and power grids from nuclear weapons and escalation to war, gives us much more to worry about.
If you want to see the devastation of single or multiple nuclear warheads and the different sizes in kilotons and megatons, anywhere on earth, and their reach, please see the Nukemap.
Billions of people use a small consortium of corporate-owned global internet platform businesses to manage our daily lives. From Amazon, Google, and Meta (Facebook) to Salesforce, Twitter, and Zoom.
What will you do if we cannot do financial transactions online for weeks, months, or even years? That is an Internet Apocolypse? We no longer remember phone numbers or addresses because they are stored on our smartphones and other internet-connected devices.
The consequence of losing internet online services without notice is mind-boggling. The global shutdown of the internet would wreak havoc on society and everything we do, including major communications and power loss, not being able to pump gas, and the loss of water, and sewer utilities, just to name a few.
- Solar Superstorms: Planning for an Internet Apocalypse
- Space Weather and Safety
- NOAA Space Weather Scales
- What To Do Before a G5 or Greater Geomagnetic Storm?
- “Geomagnetic Storms”
- Geomagnetic Disturbance Planning Guide
- What are the different types or classes of solar flares?
- Solar storms can destroy satellites with ease – a space weather expert explains the science
- Government Internet Shutdowns Are Changing. How Should Citizens and Democracies Respond? – Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
- Internet Shutdowns | Jigsaw
- Nuclear Attack Fact Sheet: Communicating in a Crisis