- Big Q: Are all people created equal?
- Big Q: Is art getting better or worse?
- Big Q: Are books dead?
- Big Q: Why are 43 percent of Americans barely able to read?
- Big Q: Who's better at communicating -- men or women?
- Big Q: Are there any modern mummies?
- Big Q: Is texting the end of talking?
- Big Q: Is privacy a dying concept or the next battleground?
- Big Q: Is the Internet making us sicker?
- Big Q: What makes a good citizen?
- Big Q: Is race a social construct?
- Big Q: Can love actually kill you?
- Big Q: Should we force a cap on the U.S. population?
- Big Q: Do prisons create more criminals?
- Big Q: If the 1 percent had less, would the 99 percent really have more?
- Big Q: Are humans meant to be monogamous?
- Big Q: Can humanity counteract the damage it's done to Earth?
- Big Q: Is global warming real?
- Big Q: Is healthy food a right or a privilege?
- Big Q: What is Gender?
- Big Q: Is there a "gay gene"?
- Big Q: Are rich people smarter?
- Big Q: If you saw someone being mugged would you stop to help?
- Big Q: Can music make you smarter?
- Big Q: What role does creativity have in business?
- Big Q: Should your health be public information?
- Big Q: Can prayer heal cancer?
- Big Q: Is there life before birth?
- Big Q: Is racism hereditary? (Is there a racist gene?)
- Big Q: Would the world be different if we all looked alike?
- Big Q: Are we inherently evil?
- Big Q: Is it better to confess a lie or keep it secret?
- Big Q: Will the world end in 2012?
- Big Q: What's the first thing you'd say to an alien?
- Big Q: Is there a sixth sense?
- Big Q: Is God evil?
- Big Q: Should fast food be outlawed?
- Big Q: Why is depression becoming more common?
- Big Q: Will surgeons be replaced by robots?
- Big Q: Can we arrest aging by destroying certain cells in our bodies?
- Big Q: Is any place in the U.S. safe from Mother Nature?
- Big Q: Does the Mayan calendar predict our doom -- will the world end in December 2012?
- Big Q: Did the Mayans use multiple calendars?
- Big Q: Why did the Mayans use a 260-day calendar?
- Big Q: Will humans still look the same 10,000 years from now?
- Big Q: Can the brain solve problems while the body sleeps?
- Big Q: What impact does ocean acidification have on undersea life?
- Big Q: Would we age differently on another planet?
- Big Q: Are near death experiences just hallucinations?
- Big Q: Is fashion empowering?
- Big Q: Can playing games make us smarter?
- Big Q: Could a hacker take down the Internet?
- Big Q: Do animals have a sense of right and wrong?
- Big Q: Do clothes really make the man (or woman)?
- Big Q: Does having children make us happier?
- Big Q: Does monogamy make us happier?
- Big Q: Does quantum foam hold the keys to time travel?
- Big Q: Does the Internet make travel irrelevant?
- Big Q: Does the modern prison system work?
- Big Q: Have credit cards made us poor?
- Big Q: How does science fiction predict the future?
- Big Q: How has the Internet changed politics?
- Big Q: How is globalization changing culture?
- Big Q: Is marriage dead?
- Big Q: Is taxation stealing?
- Big Q: Is the "American Dream" really possible?
- Big Q: Is the U.S. Constitution out of date?
- Big Q: Is there an ideal form of government?
- Big Q: Is your personal information the new currency?
- Big Q: What are the odds of surviving a plane crash?
- Big Q: What does 'free speech' really mean?
- Big Q: What does it take to explore the Mariana Trench?
- Big Q: What is fashion?
- Big Q: What is the future of the book?
- Big Q: What is the future of travel?
- Big Q: Why are humans competitive?
- Big Q: Why does fashion change?
- Big Q: Why does health care in the United States cost so much?
- Big Q: How much longer will we use paper currency?
- Big Q: Is technology killing our ability to practice patience?
- Big Q: Who is the world's most powerful person?
- Big Q: Does good grammar still matter?
- Big Q: Is Internet access a right or a privilege?
- Big Q: Are we getting dumber?
Big Question: Could a hacker take down the Internet?
Curiosity contributor and TechStuff blogger Jonathan Strickland offered his analysis on the prospect of a hacker bringing the Internet to its knees.
There's no question that hackers could cause a great deal of damage with the right sort of attack -- it's something we've seen happen to multiple companies, organizations and even countries. A few high-profile attacks have targeted critical systems like power grids and nuclear facilities.
In 2009, The Telegraph reported that hackers -- possibly located in Russia and China -- had infiltrated power grid systems within the United States to learn more about the infrastructure itself. And in 2010, The Christian Science Monitor reported that the Stuxnet virus, which infected computers around the world, was really targeting nuclear facilities in Iran. The apparent purpose of the malware was to speed up centrifuges within a nuclear facility to cause a massive systems failure. Other hacker attacks, both those sponsored by nations and those carried out by independent hackers, have hit computer systems around the world. While none of these attacks have precipitated a true catastrophe, the potential for disaster is very real.
But the Internet itself is incredibly robust. That's by design -- the architects behind the Internet built it so that it could operate even when parts of the system go offline. Without this design element, the Internet wouldn't be nearly as useful.
Imagine that the Internet is a massive city with hundreds of interconnecting streets. You're on one side of the city and you need to deliver a package to the other end. There are dozens of potential routes you could take. You strike out on a likely pathway but before you can get to your destination, you discover one of the streets you were planning to take has been shut down. This slows you down but it doesn't stop you -- after all, there are plenty of other ways to get to where you're going.
That's the nature of the Internet -- the information you send and receive can take one of millions of different pathways. In fact, the data traveling to and from your computer moves in packets. It's like you're shipping and receiving jigsaw puzzles piece-by-piece and each piece could follow its own pathway. After you receive all your pieces, you can put them together to make a complete picture. The Internet treats data the same way.
There are several benefits to this approach but perhaps the most important is that data finds a way to get around obstacles. If an Internet server between your computer and the machine with which you're communicating goes down, the data can still make its way to the right machine. So a hacker trying to take down the Internet would have to somehow disrupt hundreds of thousands of servers across the globe.
Such a herculean task is extremely implausible. A hacker might manage to disrupt a part of the Internet's infrastructure and that would certainly slow things down. Hackers can also target specific servers to take down machines so that they can't serve up information on the Internet. If that happens, the information you're trying to access may be unavailable. But you'll still be able to navigate to other machines on the Internet -- assuming yours wasn't the machine brought down by the hacker.
It's dangerous to call any system perfect. After all, the Titanic was supposed to be unsinkable. But the engineers who built the Internet were thinking ahead. They needed a system that could be flexible and resilient. That's exactly what the Internet is today, and it's not likely any hacker will take it down in the foreseeable future.