Sunday, 19 Sep 2021

Severe solar storm could cause ‘internet apocalypse’ for months, experts warn

Severe solar storms may cause an 'internet apocalypse' making it impossible for people to get online for months at a time, a bombshell study has warned.

This could happen with less than a day's notice according to research.

A strong enough solar storm could cut off entire continents from the internet for days or even months, Tech Radar reports.

The study, presented at the SIGCOMM 2021 conference last month, comes from Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi, an assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine.

She describes how vulnerable underseas cables are, which are essential to connecting the different continents to a common internet. They could be hit by the type of massive solar flare like those that struck the Earth in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Speaking about her paper Solar Superstorms: Planning for an Internet Apocalypse to Wired, Abdu Jyothi said: "What really got me thinking about this is that with the pandemic we saw how unprepared the world was.

"There was no protocol to deal with it effectively, and it's the same with internet resilience.

"Our infrastructure is not prepared for a large-scale solar event. We have very limited understanding of what the extent of the damage would be."

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Solar storms do not pose a serious threat to life on Earth.

But every so often, regular solar winds erupt into a full-blown solar storm during what are known as coronal mass ejections.

These are to the solar winds what a hurricane is to a gentle summer breeze, and they have the power to overwhelm the Earth's magnetic field and blanket the lower latitudes with highly-magnetised protons in something known as a geometric storm.

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It is essentially an extinction level event for electronics, according to scientists. When the Earth was hit by one of these solar storms in 1859 during the Carrington Event, telegraph lines around the world caught fire and electronic machinery failed, sometimes with an eruption of sparks.

Th resilience of our electronics infrastructure, from our power grid to our satellites and telecommunications equipment, has been a long-standing concern.

But Abdu Jyothi reckons local internet infrastructure would be largely spared by a solar storm thanks to the use of fiber optic cables.

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The disruption to internet could cause devastation to the world economy.

Abdu Jyothi said: "The economic impact of an internet disruption for a day in the US is estimated to be over $7 billion (£5 billion). What if the network remains non-functional for days of even months?"

According to Abdu Jyothi's paper, the odds of getting hit with a major solar storm range from 1.6% to 12%, per decade.

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