As someone who has ostensibly spent the last three and a half years of my life studying journalism at times i have a lot to say about the current state of the American news media. Any major US news outlet is over-reporting, under-representing, over-the-top, unprofessional, and altogether useless as far as i’m concerned. However, this isn’t really the fault of the programmers — it’s the fault of the American public. You would think that consumers would reject local news that resembles an erstwhile clip of Entertainment Tonight, or that they would at least demand that Philadelphia have a single daily paper not owned and published by the Knightridder corporation. But, they don’t, and their low expectations and low-brow interests are the undeniable trend-setters of what gets covered, with sometimes shocking implications.
As such, i was initially taken by surprise to see CNN headline with an internet story. My surprise only lasted long enough, though, to realize that the lead-in to the story was rife with buzz-words, and that it primarily existed to address the intermittent but highly-annoying slow-down that began earlier this weekend. The article proclaims that “Experts called the worm the most damaging attack on the Internet in 18 months,” and it was assertion that i found most shocking of all. Plainly, it is incorrect, even without taking into account a conflicting statement made in the same artcile: “It’s not a major risk. It’s not [doing] either of the two things that are terribly damaging,” Paller said. “One is hurting people’s machines, and one is knocking things [off-line].” By contrast, the relative blip on the media radar caused by a distributed denial of service attack this fall that left nine of the thirteen major DNS root servers temporarily down for the count definitely ranks, in my opinion, as possibly the most damaging attack on the Internet. Even the CNN article admits the potential deadliness of this tactic, albiet without acknowledging the recent incident in question.
Before i go on, let me ask: do you know what that means? In case you don’t: Websites don’t really live at the addresses you are used to typing in for them; this one doesn’t really exist at a place named “crushingkrisis.com.” In reality, web-pages exist soley as a set of IP numbers … think of them as PO Box’s that have been set up to forward to your (more meaningful) full street address. DNS servers are what does the forwarding, linking those numbers to names like amazon.com, cnn.com, and whitehouse.gov. And, while there are many local servers around the world that maintain this address information, all of it originates from root servers — the ones that were attacked.
Based on that oversimplified explanation, it should be plain to see how the internet might slowly disintegrate into nothingness if a few more servers had been crippled, or if they had been damaged in a more permanent fashion. Even though sites would technically still work via their IP address, many sites (most blogs included) reference their links and images in such a fashion that they would be rendered useless without a domain name at their source. However, though “[t]his may have been the largest attack on the core of the Internet, it didn’t affect actual users” (Maguire, Newsfactor.com). This, as opposed to an extremely evident slowdown that left many pages totally unavailable this weekend, meant that its coverage was minimal at best
Can you imagine what would happen if the internet broke? Not just your own site, and not just every site you read, use to schedule classes, check email with, or do banking on. No. The whole thing. It would be a catastrophe! John U. S. Doe would find himself utterly helpless at work all day without being able to refer to stocks, research, or company intranets. Jane Americana Doe would be lost without her regular nightcap of Yahoo News. In short, the public should have been really, really, really freaked out by the 2002 attack, as well as this attack and what is implied by them both.
My local news outlets largely did not cover the attack last year. By rights, it should have been the most important story… certainly more significant than impending precipitation or a sports game. Instead i found out about it in class where, unsuprisingly, no one even understood its significance. This attack obviously got picked up by CNN because it affected business and, in an unusually potent turn, disabled some thirteen thousand ATMs. Meanwhile any garden variety email-communicable virus, which i have never once even approached catching in seven years of blithe internet usage, is cause for alarm and coverage. Why? Because it primarily affects the lowest common denominator. That’s what it all comes down.
You may not be able to tell if the chicken or the egg came first — the point is that they both need each other to exist. The same goes for the relative irrelevance of the news and the increasing idiocy of the American public — especially on issues of politics and technology. Individual news organizations should make a change by covering what’s important, and not what’s expected. You should make a change by giving a shit about what they’re telling you. And not telling you.