2
$\begingroup$

At the bottom of the Mariana trench, I found an ancient, thousands, maybe millions of years old alien ship, which somehow awoke to the presence of my brainwaves and established neural interface allowing me to control it more or less.

The ship has some very advanced technology - powered by a small artificial star at its core, it has access to FTL, powerful direct energy weapons and even some small scale universal constructor allowing to manipulate matter on molecular level.

Now on that ship, I can receive radio and television signal because they are, you know, broadcasted by radio waves and interactions with them are fairly passive (basically just a matter of decoding and displaying the wave and the digital signal). Now (assuming my universal constructor created something that could emulate functions of a PC) how do I connect to the internet, considering there is much more interaction between the "receiver" and the environment? Can I connect as a passive observer? Can I connect as regular internaut? Can I connect without giving away my position on the orbit or in the depths of the sea by signal triangulation?

$\endgroup$
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ I doubt you'd receive any signals at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. $\endgroup$ – A. C. A. C. Aug 24 '17 at 18:14
  • $\begingroup$ By far your biggest issue is going to be getting a signal. Google "communication with submarines" for an idea of how hard it is to communicate with a submarine several metres below the surface, let alone several kilometres. $\endgroup$ – Matt Bowyer Aug 24 '17 at 22:52
3
$\begingroup$

millions of years old alien ship, which somehow awoke to the presence of my brainwaves and established neural interface allowing me to control it more or less.

This is good because it tells us two things that we are going to really need:

  • the ship is capable of energy interaction at a distance (it has something akin to Culture's effectors).
  • it is capable of very fast and accurate modelizations allowing it to "reverse engineer" mindstates of a mammal that didn't even exist when the ship was built.

Armed with those two capabilities, entering the Internet is a breeze.

Radio waves do not penetrate water unless they're very, very low frequency - that's why ELF are used to communicate with submarines. This is no obstacle to the ship, it will simply pick those waves from the surface, eleven watery kilometers above.

First of all, the ship analyzes the Internet traffic in the submarine cables - either SEA-US or AAG (Asia-America Gateway) landing in San Luis Obispo. The ship is easily able to decode the packet scheme and IPv4 addressing and routing (both are orders of magnitude simpler than brain signaling), and by observing the traffic it also discovers that this signaling is loss resistant. Lost packets will be retransmitted, and lost packets are not at all uncommon.

At that point, the ship assumes the identity of one of the less common transmitters - maybe a spare server in La Union, Philippines - and replaces some random packets from a common transmitter in Changi North, Singapore, with packets of its own. The transmitter assumes the packets were lost in transit and simply retransmits, not even bothering to warn anyone - this is all done by the lowest levels of the TCP/IP stack. If it was someone browsing an Internet page, would he notice that slightest of delays and do more than idly blaming the provider?

Now the ship is able to ping the Internet and elicit responses, allowing it to determine a truly unused IP public address among those that transmit from one side to the other of the AAG. Immediately after, it assumes that address and starts transmitting by hijacking other people's packets.

As far as the Internet is concerned, a valid system just powered up in Singapore, and the noise level on the line increased by less than 0.1%. Nothing to worry about.

(A Culture GCU such as the Grey Area would have simply rewritten the OS of some server and made it an extension of itself while idling in orbit around Alpha Centauri, acquiring a valid IP and all the bandwidth it might need, but let's assume this ship has a much shorter range).

As soon as an IP conflict arises (if it ever does!), the ship simply switches to another unused address.

With its technology, it is trivially capable of reading the binary code of any operating system on a remote computer, disassembling it and finding the requisite bugs and zero-day exploits, and take control. This way, it can infiltrate the Earth data systems and, for example, establish a fake identity and get assigned a small range of addresses - or even a top level domain of its own - paying with fake money appeared from nothing in some insufficiently protected bank server.

In its quest for information, after downloading Wikipedia, the ship would probably start posting on Stack Overflow under an assumed name. Hm. I can't really say I'm comfortable with where this is going...

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Honestly all it needs to do is pick an IPv6 address, copy the first 64 bits and randomize the last 64. Every Comcast subscriber gets the last /64 as personal addresses. This is enough to individually address every nanide in Revolution on Earth Prime and also a few million alternate Earths. $\endgroup$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Aug 25 '17 at 0:39
7
$\begingroup$

The Internet

The problem here is:

  1. Your understanding of the internet
  2. The ability to find a way to access the internet

I do not know any single person who knows the entire stack from TCP/IP through to the encodings used in youtube videos. How is data in wifi encoded? What metadata is there? How do you perform a DNS lookup? However, if you manage to bash past transport layer and get a TCP/IP stack going, you may be able to request a simple site (google is probably to complex), and upskill from there. However, even things like wikipedia are out unless you have the knowledge of how SSL works.

The alien spacecraft isn't going to know any of this. And if you don't know it, then there is nearly zero chance of connecting to the internet.


And the internet is not 'everywhere.' You can't just beam signals to a satellite and expect a connection. With really really advanced radios you may be able to find the nearest wifi hotspot - but I doubt you could if you were underwater. 2.4Ghz is very very readily absorbed by water - hence it's use in microwaves for heating food. Even if you could 'listen' you would have a hard time getting any data from it. Most access points are WPA2 PSK, and are hence encrypted and (short of huge effort) meaningless.


So, unless the ship has an analysis engine (computer/AI/logic-core) far in advance of what we have, there is nearly zero chance of connecting to the internet. Of course, you could just "alien technology *handwave*" as everyone else does (and leave nerds wondering how a computer from 1996 can upload a virus to an alien mothership).

The laptop your universal constructor gave you

Fortunately your question said "something that emulated the functions of a PC" because I highly doubt that it would actually be anything like it. The current computer is the result of an iteration loop between human computer scientists and the silicon-based transistor. The architecture of a modern PC is so overwhelmingly specific to the task of running a modern program.

So I imagine your universal constructor put out a computer-shaped package filled with whatever the aliens use for computing. It'll probably run better and crash less often, so don't complain about it.

The downside is that it probably won't behave like you want. Assuming it was built from your [incomplete] memories of what a laptop does, it will approximate a significant amount of behaviour. When you enable the wifi if will light up a [not] LED and start emitting radio waves - because that's what you thought of as what happened when turning it on, but it won't be wifi. It'll show a loading screen when you turn it on, not because it needed to but because all computers you've used had them.

It would be fascinating to ask a hundred people to describe a computer and how to build it, and then try to construct something based just on their description. I imagine it would be quite different to what we actually have!

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Yes. Basically a gap between the alien technology and human technology. Although it is indeed "more modern", it is not familiar with human interfaces. It does not even evolve from the same ancestor! So, no backward compatibility. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Aug 24 '17 at 19:30
  • $\begingroup$ To be honest, my question is primarily a thought experiment, i.e. whether such a thing is possible in the world of countless middle-men operating the shared environment. My layman's presumption is that you would have to somehow "become and ISP" yourself or something along these lines. $\endgroup$ – Eleshar Aug 24 '17 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Eleshar don't fret. Thought experiments are fine. If your alien is future evolved human, there might be chance that their system can adapt to connect to the internet via satellite! $\endgroup$ – Vylix Aug 24 '17 at 21:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Your reasoning is wrong. First, there are in fact individuals who understand most of the protocols you mention. But also, because these things are extremely open to traffic analysis. What's more, the specs are there too, so once you get 802.11, IP, and TCP figured out, HTTP requests are child's play, and you can download the details of the harder things. $\endgroup$ – Chris Stratton Aug 25 '17 at 3:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @ChrisStratton, I'm not saying it can't do signals intelligence. I'm saying it can't do tcp/udp/dhcp/javascript/sql/html/stmp/the list goes on. Even the people who built these systems don't know the entire system, because they are each a layer of abstraction. He would have to have most of that nailed down just to get a response that he could attempt to decipher. Try building a web browser in assembly language using only hexadecimal machine code without a reference manual. That's what this is. $\endgroup$ – Sean Boddy Aug 25 '17 at 21:04
5
$\begingroup$

You (and your alien device) don't really want to reverse-engineer the entire stack of technology that build up to accessing the internet. That would take a lot of time, and a lot of trial and error. You can't afford that, because nobody finds an aeons-old alien artifact unless there is an imminent danger to the Earth which the device's capabilities will be instrumental in solving.

Maybe we can simplify the problem...

Specifically ... you need some kind of modem which understands the various protocols. Guess what; you have one! It's your computer! Whatever laptop you brought onto your boat while searching already knows everything. (I imagine there is some kind of satellite uplink on your boat)

So, leave your laptop on the boat, connected to the internet. Run a set of cables up from the alien ship to your boat. At the laptop end, there is a video cable connector and an alien-made device which can control the keyboard (a much easier task). Your PC will send its screen output down the cable, and you can control the pc remotely by sending keystrokes via the cable.

The challenges are fewer this way. Once you've gotten this precarious setup going, you can swap out components as you & the machine invent them (get rid of that ridiculous 5-mile-long wire for one thing ;D ).

TL;DR -- use off the shelf hardware and interface with that!

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

Let's say the ship's ability to manipulate matter, or some kind of quantum tunnel to a satellite it left in orbit, would allow you to bypass the difficulty of getting a signal at the bottom of the Trench. As sdgeoff points out, it would be tremendously difficult to unwrap the layers of the HTTP(S) stack to such a degree that the alien ship could meaningfully interact with the Internet as we know it. But there's a way around that too.

Early modems had to make do with passing data over telephone lines, a foreign infrastructure intended for something else. They adapted to this situation by using acoustic couplers. Your alien ship has something similar to an acoustic coupler: you.

Human Interface Guidelines

If you brought your laptop down to the ship, it wouldn't be hard to route the actual signals from its wifi modem through the dumb antenna relay (to the surface or the satellite) that the ship has set up. It just has to observe what frequency bands the laptop is emitting. Now, it may not be able to understand those signals, but your computer can, and you in turn can understand your computer, and the ship can understand you via the neural interface you mentioned.

In fact, this gives you a unique value to the ship. It may understand that the life-forms on this planet have advanced to the point of a global information network, but would not be able to grasp that network except through you, its native interpreter.

Playing Well With Others

As for connecting as a "passive observer," probably not. Interacting with the Internet over most protocols means that you have request data to receive it; there's no one-way broadcast the way there is with television or radio. If you were in the same subnetwork as other connected devices, you could employ packet sniffing to sort-of-passively pick up on traffic, but... you're alone at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

As for whether you could interact without giving away your physical position, that's actually more plausible; even if you had a dedicated attacker trying to find the source of your signal, your network requests are likely to pass through many points on their way from client to server and back again. Discovering an IP address isn't going to help you locate a point in orbital space.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ No, these protocols are not as complex as you imagine them to be. $\endgroup$ – Chris Stratton Aug 25 '17 at 3:31
3
$\begingroup$

Unasked question: What is the internet?

The internet is a bunch of computers connected to each other. To answer your question you will want to know some of the basic layers of the internet. I'm simplifying this but it should be enough to get you in the right direction.

It's also worth noting that what is commonly referred to as the internet is actually the World Wide Web. And is only a small piece of the internet. File server, secure data servers, private networks, telephone lines, and someones publicly accessible hard drive on the home computer are all part of the internet as well.

Physical layer - The internet must physically transfer data. This is done through phone lines (twisted pair), Ethernet cables (bundled twisted pair), Fiber optic cables (glass), Microwaves (electromagnetic), Radio waves (electromagnetic), etc. Your first task will be to determine how to connect physically to the internet. Radio waves or microwaves will depreciate too much to get to a satellite. You could run a relay to the top of the ocean (say 100ft under to keep hidden from ships). But this would results in nearly 2sec of latency (satellites are as far from the earth as it's circumference and it takes 1 sec for light to travel the circumference of the earth. It would be better to run some kind of fiber line to the nearest hosting facility getting you the expected 1/2s latency for most information.

Packet/Data/Security Layer - You can't just read the data in the internet. It is encrypted, encoded, and packetized. Lets assume your computer is powerful enought to learn all this from context. Not realistic to be honest but it could learn via TV or Radio what it needs to get past the encoding and packetizing. So just play this off as "my computer is faster than earths entire technology infrastructure combined times 1 million or something like that."

Protocol Layer - Most of the information on the internet is meta data not content. HTML tags, CSS, Javascript, etc. Browsers interpret all of this for us. Even the most intelligent of machines may need some help understanding what goes where. It would be appropriate for your machine to have a learning curve when displaying content.

How do I connect to the internet?

Probably with a piggyback line on a fibre optic cable or transcontinental microwave reciever. Either way somethign will physically have to leave the ship to intercept a decent signal and relay it back.

Can I connect as a passive observer?

Not really. You can do a "man in the middle" but you will only see what the specified "man" or "men" see. You will not be able to request specific data making it rather pointless.

Can I connect without giving away my position?

Not really. If you are just observing sure. but if you want info you need to give the "internet" an address to return the information too. No matter what the movies tell you you can't hide. If you were hidden you wouldn't be able to receive the information you requested. You can rapidly change the path the information travels if you control a dns but it still all has to end somewhere.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Actually, you can hide, by pretending to be someone else whose traffic you can see, and requesting information as them. You'll send your own acks, and it's not clear that the packets responding to your queries leaking through to arrive at a port not owned by an ongoing connection on the spoofed host will cause any issues, unless that machine is configured to be especially vigilant. For that matter, they'll probably get dropped by a firewall or NAT without a mapping for them, so never even get back to the alleged requester to raise concern. $\endgroup$ – Chris Stratton Aug 25 '17 at 3:40
  • $\begingroup$ I think you can hide: they may know it's you, and they may find your IP, but no-one will expect you to be physically located at the bottom of the marina trench. So unless your alien ship is registered in the geoip database, I think you can hide pretty well - physically at least. $\endgroup$ – sdfgeoff Aug 25 '17 at 21:09
2
$\begingroup$

You could tap into an undersea cable and inject packets into the optical fibers and listen to the response using a fake IP address. You surely have an undetectable fiber optic tapping device in that alien ship.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Not the detailed answer like you would find normally on WB but it's a start. Perhaps more technical experts can elaborate or say it's impossible. I'm not a networking expert. $\endgroup$ – workoverflow Aug 24 '17 at 18:30
  • $\begingroup$ The packet injection is easy and plausible. The undetectable fiber optic tapping is much harder. The signal levels are being watched all the time and diverting some of the light would likely drop the signal level too low to read properly. So that part is very advanced, but not physically impossible, in my opinion. $\endgroup$ – Zan Lynx Aug 25 '17 at 23:49
  • $\begingroup$ Hey look, Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiber_tapping $\endgroup$ – Zan Lynx Aug 25 '17 at 23:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.