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We have a lot of weird questions come up in chat and fun comments about how we destroy worlds over a lunch break. Here is one that though I might share. You are a power that can affect cosmic bodies and phenomena. You have been offended mightily by some questions on SE and wish to blow up their servers.

How would you take out the SE Servers while causing minimal casualties and disruption to humanity?

  • Humanity must be impacted as little as possible by the strikes (other than the great loss of SE).
  • You may assume that the servers are only located in the office locations for SE.
  • You may assume no backups
  • You cannot approach earth any closer than the moon does. Nor can your influence cross that barrier.
  • Current science must be aware of any principles you use.
  • You can affect anything you like, but you can't 'undo' a change.
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    $\begingroup$ gamma-ray sniper shot maybe? $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Oct 30 '14 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ Programming Code Golf for the Universe? $\endgroup$ – Tim B Oct 30 '14 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ Cute, but is it on-topic? $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Oct 30 '14 at 15:43
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    $\begingroup$ I think so since if you change the context it can be used for sabotage between worlds. Cosmic being substitutes for "no technological restrictions" but restrained by scientific understanding "science-based", no closer than the moon deals with stealth. Taking out servers can be amended to taking out vital services with little effort. I just thought it might be an interesting way of asking. Also functions as a reverse reality-check for this kind of thing. $\endgroup$ – Mourdos Oct 30 '14 at 15:50
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    $\begingroup$ Mourdos: tip for you -- if you want to notify someone of a response to a comment, write their username preceded by the @ symbol. Responding to a comment on your own post without specifying who you're talking to only works when there was only one other user commenting on your question. As such, I don't think @MonicaCellio was notified of your response. $\endgroup$ – Shokhet Nov 2 '14 at 3:19

15 Answers 15

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Except "Gamma ray sniper shot" stated in the comment, I have another idea: Hacking from the moon

It would be easier to do hacking from the orbit (send one of my alien - probe and hack into global satellite system, to connect to SE servers) but this would be still feasible.

In other words there is my how-to list:

  1. Connect from the Moon to the Internet (prices for dial-up may vary alien race to race). You could hack yourself into NASA communication system, or the China one
  2. Use the internet connection to reach SE servers
  3. Optional: Post question to Programming golf and puzzle: "Hack me Stack Exchange in your favourite programming language. Shortest answer in bytes wins"
  4. Other option: Use your superior mother-ship computer (backwards compatible to old computers) to get you solution
  5. Upload solution got either from point 3 or point 4 to StackExchange servers
  6. Result: enter image description here
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    $\begingroup$ As I thoroughly enjoy PCG, +1 for hilarity $\endgroup$ – Sidney Oct 30 '14 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ Bonus internet points if your answer links to the question on PCG rather than just its front page :-) $\endgroup$ – Mourdos Oct 30 '14 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Mourdos now it does. Where can I collect my points? :) $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Oct 31 '14 at 11:17
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Population of Denver, CO, USA, Terra   (2013) ~       649,495
Population of London, UK, Terra        (2013) ~     8,308,000
Population of New York, NY, USA, Terra (2013) ~     8,406,000

... Assuming 50% casualty rate using conventional nuclear strike on chosen targets

Estimated casualties                          ~     8,681,748
Population of Terra (2013)                    ~ 7,125,000,000

... Casualties Estimated at 0.12%

Casualty rate within acceptable bounds.

Begin orbital bombardment? Y/n
>
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    $\begingroup$ This doesn't answer the question, though, so I'll finish it. > Y $\endgroup$ – BalinKingOfMoria Feb 5 '16 at 3:21
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Simple. Arrange the stars into a message saying, "Hi humanity, I am an extremely powerful alien. For more information, please go to stackexchange.com" and then sit back and await the slashdotting.

Putting a message on the moon (or a giant orbital sign) would also work and might better fit into the "understandable by modern science" requirement.

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    $\begingroup$ @PavelJanicek - And on the other hand, quite a few people do speak English, and can translate. Plus at least some of the non-English speaking hackers will be offended, and take it out on the servers :D $\endgroup$ – Telastyn Oct 30 '14 at 13:00
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    $\begingroup$ btw, the real drawback of your plan is, that it will not take down the SE servers forever. After a while everyone will be like: "Meh, the alien lied. There is nothing good there, lets move back to facebook" $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Oct 30 '14 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ You're thinking too short term. The message needs to read "Hi humanity, I am an extremely powerful alien. In order to ascend to a higher plane of existence and truly understand the universe, please destroy the stackexchange servers located (here), (here), and (here)." (Insert actual locations) $\endgroup$ – Rowanas Oct 30 '14 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Rowanas - because humans are so good at following instructions... $\endgroup$ – Telastyn Oct 30 '14 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Rowanas being silly is okay, being perceived as silly when you want people to do something.. $\endgroup$ – overactor Oct 30 '14 at 13:47
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Fire something very small, which generates a very strong magnetic field, through the roof of the data centre. It could be a miniature electromagnet or something more exotic. Data eliminated, zero human casualties, and none of the uncertainties of hacking.

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  • $\begingroup$ Doesn't this assume magnetic storage? Solid state and optical storage is much more resilient to magnetic fields than is magnetic storage, although obviously with a strong enough magnet you can wreak havoc with other things instead... $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 31 '14 at 9:17
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    $\begingroup$ We are passed that point. All modern internet scale apps (like SE), are tolerant to destruction of a single datacenter. Well designed ones like google apps, can tolerate much more than that. $\endgroup$ – Ali Oct 31 '14 at 13:43
  • $\begingroup$ -1 Just because hard disks use magnetic effects doesn't mean you can use a magnet to erase them. For today's disks, you would start ripping the iron structure of the building apart before the field would start to change the data on the disk. $\endgroup$ – Aaron Digulla Nov 3 '14 at 12:20
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My suggestion is to create a small black hole (small enough that it will dissipate given time). Drop it through the earth at the precise angle required to take out the three data centers on it's route through.

The route

Here you can see the black hole striking the London data center, orbiting through the center of the earth then coming up through the New York data center before finally coming back down and striking the Denver one and then dissipating.

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    $\begingroup$ @Rowanas Actually the black hole wouldn't need to take out the entire data center, the hole itself would be small but the electrical and gravitational fields around it would do the rest of the damage. The tunnel left behind by its passage would collapse in on itself pretty much immediately so you wouldn't be left with a volcano or similar. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Oct 30 '14 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ I'm quite sure that the dissipation of the black hole does create collateral damage. Apparently the life-time of the black hole is supposed to be just long enough to survive five times the time it takes to fall from 300000 km down to Earth ... $\endgroup$ – Hagen von Eitzen Oct 30 '14 at 16:08
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    $\begingroup$ Which modeling software did you use to plot the trajectory? Seems incredibly precise as to the fluctuations caused by - presumably - gravity interference from smaller bodies. $\endgroup$ – user4239 Oct 30 '14 at 16:17
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    $\begingroup$ @DVK Only the best software for this one, I ran the simulation in the mighty MS PAINT (Multi-System Point Attraction Iterative Natural simulaTor)! $\endgroup$ – Tim B Oct 30 '14 at 16:34
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    $\begingroup$ This sounds a bit like On the immediate effects of a small, short term black hole. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 31 '14 at 9:15
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Bribe or threaten Jon Skeet to delete all his posts. That would destroy half of SE right there, and then everyone else would abandon it.

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    $\begingroup$ How do you do this from far away? (Also, I think they have an automatic ban-and-undelete mechanism for people who delete lots of their own posts (rage-quitter).) $\endgroup$ – Paŭlo Ebermann Nov 2 '14 at 18:48
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  1. Secure $850 quadrillion, preferably in cash.
  2. Figure out a way to get around one or two famous and fairly successful treaties.
  3. Build a Death Star.
  4. Modify the Death Star so it won't blow up the entire planet, but instead will concentrate a fair amount of energy into a single spot.
  5. Wait for each office location to come into your scope (while somehow making sure that your orbital period accommodates this).
  6. Fire at will.
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    $\begingroup$ 3.5. Close all exhaust ports. $\endgroup$ – Kyranstar Oct 31 '14 at 1:11
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    $\begingroup$ 3.25: Deploy TIE fighters. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Oct 31 '14 at 1:12
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    $\begingroup$ What did Will do to deserve this? $\endgroup$ – Tim B Oct 31 '14 at 10:08
  • $\begingroup$ And more to the point, what good does firing at him do to destroy Stack Exchange? $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 31 '14 at 10:46
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    $\begingroup$ not sure cosmic beings are bound by the terms of treaties they haven't signed $\endgroup$ – buzzy613 Oct 31 '14 at 14:51
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I would take away the need for SE entirely by making Google return the perfect answer for any question that you would ever ask on SE. The question: how would you make Google omniscient? by making it link to your personal knowledge. How do you do that? accidentally let one of your older uplink nodes land on the Google Campus, older meaning it's similar in capacity to Earth systems.

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  • Find one (1) naturally-generated, stable Einstein–Rosen bridge - also known as wormhole (WH1) with a naturally time-shifted endpoint (TSE1E). We're going to use this wormhole to travel to the past and back.
  • Implement one (1) artificial, stable wormhole. Let's call it WH2.
  • Bring one of WH2's endpoints to orbit very close to the Sun, while leaving the other around Earth. Relativity kicks in, and time slows down for the sun-bound endpoint. Let's call it Time-Shifted WH2's Endpoint (TSW2E). We'll use this ERB to travel to the future and back.
  • Stay together with TSE2E while it travels around the Sun. Choose the heat/radiation shielding of your liking.
  • Time dilation will bring you to the future in a matter of hours. Go back to Earth. locate discarded StackExchange servers. Take note of their serial numbers. Determine the precise moment they were created, and which BIOS they were using.
  • Go back to Sun's orbit. Enter TSE2E. You'll travel to the past - the current time - but you need to move further earlier. Enter TSE1E. You'll travel back a few years if you're lucky, or a few billion years if you're not; you may need to implement Cryonics. Details are outside the scope of this question.
  • Start working for the company that made the servers. Work your way up to BIOS programmer. Keep in mind that time is of essence.
  • Months before the servers are assembled, insert a piece of malicious code that will detect the kind of software running on it. As soon as it notices Stack Exchange's production code signature, a timer starts ticking. Make it go off in a most catastrophic way - a 404 (or a 418, if you're feeling specially ebil.) Switching servers will do no good - all servers will have the same piece of code running on their BIOS.
  • Watch despair and chaos as it ensues. Enter TSE1E as many times as you want for infinite replays.
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    $\begingroup$ This doesn't really fit the "not nearer than moon" criterion. $\endgroup$ – Paŭlo Ebermann Nov 2 '14 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ @PaŭloEbermann You're completely right, rendering my answer invalid. Should I delete it? $\endgroup$ – OnoSendai Nov 3 '14 at 15:22
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Land a large nuke outside the server building. It's got a sign on it: 30:00 minutes until detonation, wipe the Stack Exchange servers to prevent this. The timer is counting down.

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  • $\begingroup$ But then people would try to disarm it. $\endgroup$ – tox123 Nov 1 '14 at 2:13
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    $\begingroup$ That's one reason I set the timer short. The only way you're going to stop it in time is blow it up and that's going to throw plutonium all over the place--and that assumes you can get your hands on a shaped charge in time. If you truly want to ensure no disarming use an antimatter weapon. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Nov 1 '14 at 2:25
  • $\begingroup$ There are tons of military bases around New York and London. there is one near Denver as well. I'm fairly sure that at least one of those bases has a way to handle a nuclear bomb within 30 minutes. $\endgroup$ – Nzall Feb 8 '16 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ They probably could blow it up--but that causes the chemical explosives to go off and makes a big mess. They certainly aren't going to go for a disarm unless they're sure they have it right--and can they get that certainty in 30 minutes?? I don't think so. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Feb 8 '16 at 20:39
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Just reorient a couple asteroids such that they impact the appropriate locations. Sure, there will be collateral damage, but sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.

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Economics

If enough money was on the table, you could buy the Stack Exchange Inc, and simply shutdown or wipe the servers.

Mind Control

Hack into one of the communications satellites, and use hypnotic messages to control the Stack Exchange server admins. Get them to wipe the data, the backups, kill the servers with axes, etc.

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  • $\begingroup$ We don't know how to "Mind Control" currently. Hypnosis is currently known but is not reliable as it requires a certain kind of person for it to work on. The question says we need to know how anything that is done works. $\endgroup$ – Mourdos Nov 6 '14 at 10:11
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Build or conjure up a giant lens, place it between the sun and the Earth, and use the resulting beam to etch the servers off the face of the planet. It's low-tech enough that humans are unlikely to blame it on a super-advanced alien weapon, and the sheer scale of it is ridiculous enough that it really drives home the notion that there's something very big and very powerful that's angry with you. Collateral damage can be minimized since you can adjust the beam size by tweaking the lens. Not recommended for cosmic beings with shaky hands.

For bonus points and a more impressive visual effect, add a couple of giant mirrors into the mix and hit them while they're on the night side of the planet.

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  • $\begingroup$ With the amount of focused energy required to vaporise a building, would warm the atmosphere... it might cause Global Warming!? Hmm... $\endgroup$ – Kami Nov 3 '14 at 9:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Kami- If sustained over a period of time, probably so. A quick, targeted beam to destroy a precise target should be short-lived enough to avoid any large-scale impacts. Perhaps even less so if multiple smaller beams were used, coming in from different angles and converging on the target (similar to radiation therapy for cancer). $\endgroup$ – bta Nov 5 '14 at 17:01
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Create autonomous robots and have them do it.

There are myriad ways in which this could successfully play out. For example, you could pack the robots into a small asteroid and have it hit the Atlantic ocean to disguise the approach. They then could use earth's GPS system to let them home in on the offices, drill in, and then set themselves on fire. Making them look superficially like toys (e.g. remote controlled cars) would help avoid detection, plus they should move primarily at night.

The main point is that when something complicated needs to be done remotely, robots give you much more flexibility than do simple application of physical laws.

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    $\begingroup$ Hi and welcome to the Worldbuiding SE ! Could you explain a little bit more how this could destroy the ''Cosmic being'' ? $\endgroup$ – Vincent Oct 31 '14 at 1:50
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    $\begingroup$ Normally, when the answer is so short, it is better to make a comment instead. (and I noticed that I made a mistake in my last comment but apparently I can't edit it for the moment) $\endgroup$ – Vincent Oct 31 '14 at 2:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Vincent - It's a perfectly legitimate answer. On StackOverflow at least, the custom is that answers are answers regardless of length: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/254296/… $\endgroup$ – Rex Kerr Oct 31 '14 at 6:56
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    $\begingroup$ The Worldbuilding SE, while using the same software platform as Stack Overflow, is however not SO. We generally greatly prefer answers here that go into some depth, over single-sentence answers. Consider some of our most highly voted answers. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 31 '14 at 8:43
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    $\begingroup$ This does answer the question, the fact that it's shorter than our usual doesn't stop it being a valid answer. It's unlikely to get many (any) upvotes without rather more fleshing out of the concept though :) $\endgroup$ – Tim B Oct 31 '14 at 10:10
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Send a message from several locations from the Heliopause which sources (let say millions at least) evenly distributed on the virtual sphere of the Heliopause on the form of every encoding scheme known to human (mors, binary, etc) in the every human-language, with the strongest possible non-lethal electromagnetic radiation from all the electromagnetic spectrum which can be seen or read by the humans saying:

XOR EVERY BIT WITH ITSELF WHICH BELONGS TO S.E. (Stack Exchange) OR ELSE...

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  • $\begingroup$ Why would we go out that far? The source could be too faint to see. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Nov 1 '14 at 23:20
  • $\begingroup$ signals should be strong and far -far enough to proof of non-human generated- and strong enough -assuming measured from the earths surface- to "set to stun not to kill" $\endgroup$ – underscore Nov 1 '14 at 23:31
  • $\begingroup$ One interpretation of the idea like this: you see flashing ligths in the sky brighter than sun (let say mors code) and the same time around every metal object resonates with the magnetic field wihch emits sound waves saying with your local dominant language "XOR EVERY..." in 240 dB (loud as almost equal to saturn V moon rocket launch). $\endgroup$ – underscore Nov 1 '14 at 23:40
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    $\begingroup$ Precisely you may say "no collateral damage to the matter" after the destruction of the bits. $\endgroup$ – underscore Nov 1 '14 at 23:58
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    $\begingroup$ Not everyone reading this might now what "SE" stands for. $\endgroup$ – Paŭlo Ebermann Nov 2 '14 at 18:50

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