The Death of the Internet: A Science-Fiction Story

Originally posted to the newsgroup and published here with permission of the author.

Subject:      Re: [Fwd: Fwd: AOL support of Torricelli]
From:         "Clifton T. Sharp, Jr." <>
Date:         1997/12/31
Organization: as little as possible

Nobody U Know wrote:
> I can honestly see 200-300 UCE's per USER if Torricelli passes.

If it passes, I can see that many in the first hour. The extremes of MTA
overload will have admins up at 4 AM to shut off the mail servers, period.
(Remember most bills give an effective date, plenty of advance notice for
preparation for the spammers.) The biggies such as AOL will sludge along
for a few days before giving up.

Hey, I'm always good for overblowing a situation into some fantastic
scenario. But think carefully about this one. Groundhog day, Clinton
signs the Torricelli bull^H^H^H^H bill into law, to take effect March
1. Every company already on the net is on the phone that day to its
provider for more bandwidth; companies that haven't bothered with the
net before will be clambering aboard with ATM and FDDI. Contract-programmer
houses go crazy trying to staff $200/hr. two-month setup/admin positions.
Marketing departments lose sleep while focus groups and department meetings
scramble to produce "the ideal" email message.

February 15, 1998: The entire 'net is at a crawl. Bots are eating so much
bandwidth collecting email addresses from every possible source that little
is left for anything else. Search engines are dumping core. Surprisingly
little spam is out there, because even the scammers can't get through;
the spam run that used to take six hours now takes four days, and the
whackamole providers are cutting off accounts that appear to be "nailed
up", to angry little spammer wails.

February 22, 1998: Only the diehard user tries to log on and use anything.
Business accounts that needed connectivity more than they needed marketing
space are cancelling their bandwidth orders and begging other companies
to take them on. Admins are patching systems that crumble under the test
mailbombings. Value-added services like AOL are filled with users, but
in and out of consciousness from the large load of spiders and 'bots.
Lag is everywhere. Marketroids everywhere are using $22,000 projectors
to display the few megabytes of JPEG graphics they'll be sending (down
from a few dozen megabytes, to the relief of the admins), while the art
departments scurry about rescanning pictures that degraded under 10%

February 29, 1998, 8 PM PST: Admins are pleased at the recent bombing runs
and their results; systems, tweaked to the last opcode, appear to be ready
to maintain 90% utilization of the 155 MBPS wires. A gaggle of hastily-
convened lawyers stir their coffee; someone in San Francisco let loose an
hour ago ("but it's 12:01 Atlantic Standard Time!") and was stifled
"unfairly". Caterers stir the caviar while the marketroids guzzle the
latest fad drinks and meander past silent terminals. The entire Internet
is about to be a spambone. Whackamoles are still sleeping, but the coffee
pot timers will kick in soon.

8:45 PST: A flurry of pingstorms is the only activity. Regular users have
had enough recent experience with lag to know better, and only a few of
the spiders are still running as most conserve bandwidth for tonight's

8:54 PST: NAPs suddenly go wild as "accidentally" misconfigured system clocks
set off the first shots. Clueful admins notice the change in ping times
and declare a new clock setting. Only seconds have passed since the start
of activity, and systems are already bogging. Short bursts of speed mark
the occasional crash of a misconfigured router or an underpowered computer.
The wise and blessed-of-budget have installed their own special DNS cheats
and reconfigured stacks not to ask for it on the net; soon they are the
only ones running at any speed. The marketroids are about to storm the
network center, as they learn that incoming mail connections are being
refused and fail to consider the reasons. An unfortunate accidental
misconfiguration (heh heh) at a famous anti-spam site is causing 97% of
incoming datagrams to be NAK'ed, to the consternation of junior admins
elsewhere hastily assigned to quickly filter the address lists. No one is
thinking; there isn't time.

9:06 PST: Parts of the network, including all the MAEs, are at saturation
bandwidth. There are so many console messages that some systems crash in
the vain attempt to queue them, and some slow noticeably just processing
them. Anything which is not spewing is being spewed at.

9:17 PST: The first mail spool fills and its system crashes.

9:33 PST: 20% of all mail spools have filled. Many crashes.

9:46 PST: Admins are starting to filter in all over the country. Most
thought nothing like this could happen and the night would be quiet and
uneventful. But by now, most have shut their pagers off entirely. Some
with dead systems will content themselves with restoring /var/spool/mail
from the 6 PM backup. The less fortunate, those with still-living systems,
will be fighting madly to keep them that way. 

9:52 PST: The first in a cast of thousands to follow, a system with room
left on its mail pack closes SMTP port 25. Average mailbox size: 71 megabytes.
Even entire systems that have whitelists are being pummeled as smtpd dies
slowly. Even the growing number of systems who have disabled the daemon
are reaching for the router console.

9:58 PST: "Deny" routing begins in earnest. Specially modified IP stacks
don't care as they retry connections every second. Marketroids scream at
the now locked NOC, demanding statistics they really don't want to hear.

10:03 PST: The first of many systems sees the admin reaching for the power
switch on the closest router. Film at 11.

Well, okay, maybe that was a *little* on the fantastic side... :-)

|   Cliff Sharp  | If tin whistles are made of tin,                         |
|     WA9PDM     |  I don't even wanna THINK about dog biscuits!            |