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It's hard to believe how quickly and thoroughly the "Information Superhighway" and the World-Wide-Web have become integrated into the daily lives of the general public. A decade ago, few people outside of universities and the information technology industry had even heard of the Internet, but today people depend on it for everything from news, weather, and entertainment to doing their homework, filing their tax returns, and buying the basic necessities of life.
Depending on anything to that extent is dangerous, and the failure or collapse of the Internet and the World Wide Web would be catastrophic for the entire civilized world.
Couldn't happen, you say? Think I'm just another fearmongering nutcase net-kook? Well, before you click that [back] button and revel in your false sense of security, take a look at this graph:
If that's not enough to convince you by itself, let me point out that it's a graph of the increasing volume of traffic on the internet, now dominated almost entirely by the transmission of web-based information.
So far, technological advances have been able to keep pace with this ever-increasing need for information flow. But this could change--even as we speak, there's another, as yet unexplained fellow-traveller that's taking up an ever greater proportion of this bandwidth. Its purpose remains unknown, but it does not appear to be of human origin and its content is not information that is of use to or meaningful to humans.
And yet, every single day, it devours an even larger share of the total internet bandwidth.
As recently as ten years ago, no reported observances of the strange code " " appeared in the traffic on the "information superhighway." Today it is already taking up a substantial portion of the total internet bandwidth and it appears to propagate by "infecting" webpages in a virus-like or cancer-like manner, spreading throughout its victim, crowding out or replacing the readable text content that had originally occupied the formerly healthy page.
In the most advanced cases, infected pages may have had nearly all their text replaced by the " " virus, leaving nothing but a vestigial "under construction" or "coming soon" sign.
A survey of randomly selected webpages showed that those infected by the virus typically had 10% to 30% of their total bytes consisting of multiple " " tags. Web browsers will not normally display these tags, so when an unsuspecting reader loads up an infected page, he or she will probably notice nothing more than what appears to be a slower internet connection--hardly an unusual experience in this day and age.
" "'s exact method for infecting pages has not yet been discovered. Whether it is transmitted through a network connection, between pages sharing the same host, or through unprotected cybersex is uncertain. What is certain is that it is spreading rapidly throughout the World Wide Web. If current trends continue (see graph below), within six years, over 99% of network traffic will consist entirely of " "s and surfers on the information superhighway will find themselves waiting as long for pages to load as real-life surfers have to wait for a decent whitecap to come rolling up I-85.
X X X xX .XX .xXXX ..xxXXXXXX -----------------------------
The virus-like manner in which " "s replicate and spread looks threatening enough, and for now they appear to do nothing more than take up space on the information superhighway while they freely use our precious communications infrastructure to travel around the world for their own, as yet unknown, ends.
Can we really count on them always remaining silent, though? As described above, they typically make up 10-30% of infected pages; that means that regardless of how widespread they may be, they're still in the minority. What happens when they become the majority? Will they then "activate" like a human virus that first establishes a foothold in its victim and only then starts causing symptoms? Could " " turn out to be ebola for computers?
What is the real purpose behind this " " invasion? We already know that it's dangerous, quite likely the single greatest threat to our technological society.
Frighteningly, we simply don't know. Whether it's part of some long-reaching terrorist scheme to disrupt global communications, or the beginnings of an all-out invasion by a hostile alien race, the odds are that by the time we do figure it out, it will already be too late.
As a concerned citizen, what can you do to prevent the destruction of the internet? Regularly check your own webpages and those you visit to see if they've become infected; most browsers include a "view source" option that lets you do this easily.
Write letters to your local paper and your congressman demanding that this crisis be dealt with immediately, and watch carefully for any changes in your computer's operation and performance that might be caused by " " infection. Check the computers of family members and friends to make sure that they have not become unwitting dupes of the " " invasion. If you observe any signs that they might be under " " control, take no chances; get to a phone as quickly as possible without arousing their suspicions and report them and their computers to the authorties immediately.
" "'s ever-tightening grip on our precious information superhighway means that immediate action is vital. It is only by working together to fight this menace that we have any hope of saving our technological way of life.
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