The Internet kill switch: still a bad idea

John C. Tanner
28 Jun 2010

With US politicians dithering over the prospect of potential cyber-attacks from China and elsewhere (but mostly China), independent Senator Joseph Lieberman has proposed a solution: a bill that would grant the US President unlimited power to shut down part or all of the Internet in the case of a cyberattack.

The “Internet kill switch” at the core of the so-called Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act (PCNAA) isn’t a new idea – the same idea was pitched over a year ago in another bill, the Cybersecurity Act of 2009, co-sponsored by Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

However, the kill-switch provision was eventually dropped from the 2009 bill for a rather good reason: it was a silly and useless idea.

It’s no less silly and useless now.

Forget the paranoid nonsense about the Internet kill switch giving Obama the ability to shut down news sites and bloggers – an Internet kill switch is technologically implausible to begin with.

Even if you could devise a kill switch mechanism of some kind, it’s not likely to thwart a hacker attack, especially one designed with a kill switch in mind. And if the attack is that unsophisticated, odds are it could be prevented, or at least minimized, by keeping security patches up to date.

(On a side note, the Australian government is actually considering a proposal that would require users to keep their anti-virus and firewall software updated or lose their Internet privileges. It would also require ISPs to ensure their users conform to the rules. Good luck with that, Australia.)

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