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Why you can’t really break the internet

I’ve read a lot of articles recently and heard a few reporters comment that people like Kim Kardashian have ‘broken’ the internet. Of course they haven’t because for some of the reasons below it isn’t actually possible to ‘break the internet’.

I know that in the context of celebrities (and I use the term loosely when writing about anyone with the surname Kardashian) and the context of viral media content, ‘breaking the Internet’ means engineering a story to dominate Facebook and Twitter at the expense of more newsworthy things and not actually breaking it.

That’s basically because in the real world, you can’t break the internet, why? Because the internet isn’t a single entity that can be broken in the same way that you can break your smartphone, laptop or tablet device. The internet is a complex mix of elements, maintained and owned by multiple organisations across the globe. You may be able to break a website in the sense that you can take a website offline by using a DDOS attack (Distributed Denial of Service) in the same way that the BBC website and iPlayer were taken offline recently using the same technique. But you simply can’t break the internet, not all of it, not at the same time.

The simple reason is that the Internet is a collection of computers, servers, hardware, cables and the like – not to be confused with the World Wide Web (the WWW bit) which is all of the websites that sit on top of the Internet. Every website, email, e-commerce shop etc lives on a part of the internet that is situated in different places, in different countries across the world. So breaking this simultaneously would be virtually impossible.

Like anything that is getting old in a technology sense, (think how long your shinny new iPhone is going to last until Apple brings out another 2 updates), some parts of the Internet are getting on a bit. Routers that should have been retired years ago have failed, which can leave any website vulnerable to getting ‘lost’ as nothing on the internet either knows where it is or knows how to get it the site even if it does. Add to that regular shark attacks on the cables that run under the Atlantic connecting us to the USA and there is an very realistic possibility that some parts of the Internet will at some point break. For real.

The biggest cause of concern that is more worrying is that the Internet is running out of addresses. It’s like the Royal Mail running out of Postcodes or the changes we had to make in the UK to the phone system because we were running out of phone numbers, something that will happen again in the next few years if things don’t change. For the Internet the problem is IP addresses. An IP (Internet Protocol) address is the identifier for every device that goes online, so it follows that the more devices that there are online the more addresses we will need. Using the current 32-bit number, which gives around 4 billion IP addresses, will eventually run out, especially if you think there are around 6 billion people in the world who may all need an IP address at some point.

So can you break the Internet, no.

Will it break itself, possibly. But as it is made up of some many parts I doubt it will all break at once, or be broken for long if the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon to name but a few have anything to do with it.

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