The FBI has arrested a man for planning an attack on Amazon servers that he claimed would destroy the entire Internet.
According to 2020 data, 93.2% of the population in some countries uses the Internet, a percentage that could well be much higher depending on the month. Now, let’s imagine for a moment that 70% of the Internet disappears overnight.
It is not hard to imagine. Last March fire in an OVH data center caused a large number of web pages and services to temporarily stop working; anyone seeing that might think that a well-directed catastrophe could wipe out access to almost the entire Internet.
That was the incredible plan of Seth Aaron Pendley, a citizen of Texas, USA, who planned to use C-4 explosives to destroy an Amazon data center, and thus take down much of the Internet; plans that not only fell through for him, with his arrest but could never have succeeded in the first place.
The plan to destroy the Internet
It all started when a user named ‘Dionysus’ (from the Greek god of fertility and wine, Dionysus) began boasting on the MyMilitia.com website that he was going to conduct a “little experiment” that was going to “attract a lot of attention”; when asked by another user what the target was, he simply replied with “death”, although he clarified that he was not a “stupid suicide bomber”.
It is easy to dismiss such threats, considering that the page on which he made them is notorious for attracting extremist users; such as those who stormed the U.S. Capitol earlier this year, which allegedly included this ‘Dionysus’.
It did not take the FBI long to find out his real identity, nor did it take him to explain his plan. In early January, an FBI source infiltrating the community contacted Pendley via Signal, the secure alternative app to WhatsApp.
It was then that he discovered Pendley’s real target: an Amazon Web Services data center, the company’s platform for hosting cloud services. The intention, according to Pendley himself, was to use C-4 explosives to destroy the servers and thus, “kill approximately 70% of the Internet.”
Why it would fail
Before Pendley could execute his plan, the source alerted the FBI, and an agent contacted him directly and confirmed his intentions on March 31. The 28-year-old has been arrested and could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
But would it be possible for such a plan to affect the Internet? All indications are that the idea is based more on Pendley’s ignorance of how the Internet works, rather than a realistic calculation of the effect the attack would have. In one of the logs, he goes so far as to claim that the AWS servers are centralized and “gigantic,” although he admits he doesn’t have all the details.
In reality, AWS and other cloud services are based on just the opposite, on distributing their servers to various locations around the world; data stored on one server is dispersed throughout the rest, with copies offered to users visiting in different locations. There is no central server, and that is the reason why when AWS goes down, as when Maradona died, only a portion of users suffer and the rest can continue to browse perfectly.
Therefore, experts agree that such an attack would probably have caused slowdowns for a while, but that no data or web pages would be lost.