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If a major world war broke out in the 21st century (let's say for the sake of clarity between the USA and China) what would happen to the internet and global communications we all enjoy?

Would it split in half? Would it carry on in much the same way as today?

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closed as too broad by MichaelK, Burki, sphennings, Azuaron, L.Dutch May 22 '17 at 13:22

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ What kind of war? Local? Global? Nuclear? Also, internet is already "split" in two, if you consider China blocking outside internet and replacing "foreign" services with local ones. $\endgroup$ – Euphoric May 22 '17 at 11:20
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    $\begingroup$ The question How to take down the internet? might help you with this question. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus May 22 '17 at 11:21
  • $\begingroup$ Premise: A "major war"? What kind of war? Economic? Cold war? Nuclear weapon exchange; a complete exchange, Limited tactical, EMP and decapitation exchange? Hot conventional war? Purely defensive on on both sides? All out assault with intent to invade and annex? Disruption drone strikes to stall and inhibit attack? Problem: "I do not know how this affects 'The Internet'." Query: "How does it affect 'The Internet'?" Answer: your question cannot be answered. It is much too broad and depends heavily on the premise, which is exceedingly vague $\endgroup$ – MichaelK May 22 '17 at 11:29
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    $\begingroup$ Twitter would explode most likely. I think the hashtags #killallchinamen and #stopthewar would be very popular. The war between China and the US would most likely be fought over some satellite country (e.g. Japan or an African state) or happen mostly above China and on the ocean. I think you should clarify if one country is being invaded and how that might look like $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 May 22 '17 at 11:29
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    $\begingroup$ I think that your question is too broad. Way too broad even. Imho first giving more detail to the scenario, and second narrowing it down to some aspects, would help a lot. $\endgroup$ – Burki May 22 '17 at 12:30
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Based on a general war:

Connectivity

In theory, the Internet is a decentralized network in which there are multiple routes from computer to computer. Even with widespread destruction - from bomb strikes, sabotage, power outages, whatever, this would remain true. But..

Bandwidth

Most Internet bandwidth will come from major PoPs (Point of presences) and their high speed lines, owned by major telcos. So a city may have the vast majority of it's internet traffic going through perhaps 2 or 3 major switch centers. Take these out and most of your bandwidth is gone. Take out the fibres connecting these PoPs and again, you lost most bandwidth. No doubt alternative routes will be found but at a fraction of the bandwidth.

Servers

Most of the major sites exist on server farms in data centers. Think Google (including all their services), YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Stack Overflow (the horror!), eCommerce, etc. All based in data canters. In a major war, expect most of these to at least lose power if not physically damaged. So you'd be back to running your own server. Most of what we

DNS

If the root DNS system is taken down, then IIRC most of the World Wide Web would also go down.

Summary

Most of what we think of as the Internet would probably go down. Network geeks would probably be able to use something based on older pre-Web technologies with much lower bandwidth requirements, but the modern internet (which is far more of a centralized model nowadays) would mostly go down.

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  • $\begingroup$ Fortunately there are (some) alternative DNS servers, which leads to things like spraypainting 8.8.8.8 on buildings in some countries. 8.8.8.8 being Google's DNS server, but still a weak link. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s May 22 '17 at 13:41
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Considerable amounts of damage can be done by accident.

Since incidents such as this are not deliberate (on an international scale, they certainly are on a national level), it shows that the internet is at least likely to become a battleground and how easily it can become one.

There will be all the usual denial of service, generic hacking and hijacking, but performed by state rather than (or as well as) private or criminal actors.

It could easily be said that for the duration the internet would be either unusable or fundamentally unsafe to use.

There will also be a vast level of propaganda, it'll be easier than ever to communicate with, and affect the moral of, the citizens of the opposing nations.

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Since China's Internet is already heavily regulated and isolated, not much would happen in the internet itself probably.

Physically, a lot of cables could be sabotaged. But since the global communication system is decentralized over many cables and satellites, the important channels would not break down.

The internet would be used heavily for propaganda, the USA would probably also control what is distributed ideology-wise in its sphere of control of the internet.

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  • $\begingroup$ China has state-run hackers, as does the USA. Are you saying neither nation would use them? $\endgroup$ – CaM May 22 '17 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ No I didn't say that. I was focussing more on what the implication on your everyday usage of the internet would be like. For sure there would be an internet war raging, but I'd suspect China and USA would attack infrastructure or military stuff more than your-daily-dose-of-cat-memes.com $\endgroup$ – Fl.pf. May 22 '17 at 14:05
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The major change would be internet becoming intranet. Something like https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kwangmyong_(intranet)

Of course it would not be so visible in the US, but hey would limit access and reduce risk of being infected and attacked by viruses.

Because nowadays you can create net very easily (with your lightbulb being a Bluetooth device and your fridges having access to Wi-Fi or even being a Wi-Fi router) the government and army would like to lower the chance of cyber attack and sabotage with devices being exposed to internet, that we need to assume, is already full of enemies.

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