Events this past week left me wondering if maybe we haven't gotten just a little too attached to technological conveniences for our own good.
On Thursday Aug. 6, users of the popular Internet social networks Twitter and Facebook woke to find the sites were down or inaccessible.
Who cares, right? Sites don't work on the Internet all the time.
Normally, the mainstream media cares about as much about non-functioning websites as it does when somebody other than Michael Jackson dies. Such was not the case this time, though.
Instead, a kind of panic spread online and around the world as people found they couldn't connect as usual to friends and family, or monitor their various networks and news feeds.
Well, they could - just not on Twitter or Facebook. The rest of the Internet was working fine. I'm sure there were other websites that weren't working for various reasons too, but they're not popular enough to care about it seems.
According to a lot of online chatter and news reports, people said they actually felt "naked" without Twitter. That's how popular Twitter has become in such a short time. People have become so dependent on it, and other social network sites, that many were blogging that they had a hard time coping without it.
Couldn't they just have, I don't know, emailed their friends instead? They could have only used 140 characters so it looked like a "tweet."
I guess not. A rose by any other name may still smell as sweet, but brother, don't try to suggest all Internet communication is the same. Panicked and naked tweeters just can't be reasoned with, apparently.
To be honest though, the vast majority of Facebook and Twitter users took the outage in stride and just waited for service to resume. It was actually the mainstream media that ran with the story and made it a big deal. Must've been a slow news day.
So why did these sites drop in the first place? Why, hackers, of course.
But the interesting thing is the hackers were not really after Twitter as a whole, but rather one specific user, according to reports. It seems a fellow in Russia (Georgia to be precise) was the actual target.
Going by the user name "Cyxymu," this guy was using Twitter to blog about Russian military aggression and buildup in and around Georgia, as well as on recent political reforms. Internet security experts have pinpointed him as the target of the Internet attacks, hypothesizing that they were politically motivated to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the Russia-Georgia conflict.
The hackers used something called a denial-of-service attack to bring the sites down.
Essentially, the attack uses computers they infected with a virus to mass email and overwhelm the sites. And if you don't have proper protection on your computer, such as anti-virus and anti-malware software, your computer could be one of those compromised machines responsible for the attacks, unbeknownst to you.
So I guess the moral of the story is to make sure your computer is protected so you aren't helping hackers to bring sites like these down. Also possibly, don't be a pro-Georgian blogger - but I'm not sure how many that would apply to, in the end.
And if you're one of those users who felt naked and unable to cope without Twitter or Facebook for a few hours, just try to keep in mind that life, like the Internet, always has its ups and downs. So don't panic.