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The first Internet blackout

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If you think internet blackouts are a modern day problem, get this one. The first, ever, was on October 27, 1980 when the Internet was still called Arpanet. The technical cause was a malfunction of the IMPs, the Interface Message Processors. It lasted several hours but I will notice it in a few because at the time Arpanet was only in the United States and connected several universities and research centers.

Traces of it remain in RFC 789. The RFCs – an acronym that stands for “Request For Comments” – was a tool used in the early days of the Internet by the engineers who supervised the development of the network, to exchange news or proposals on which, in fact, they asked for the opinions of colleagues. RFC 789 states that: On  October 27, 1980, there was an unusual occurrence on then ARPANET.  For a period of several hours, the network appeared  to be  unusable,  due to what was later diagnosed as a high priority software  process   running   out   of   control.    Network-wide disturbances  are  extremely  unusual  in  the  ARPANET (none has occurred in several years), and as a  result,  many  people  have expressed  interest  in  learning more about the etiology of this particular incident.  The purpose of this note is to explain what the symptoms of the problem  were,  what  the  underlying  causes were,  and  what  lessons  can  be  drawn.   As we shall see, the immediate cause of the problem was  a  rather  freakish  hardware malfunction  (which is not likely to recur) which caused a faulty sequence of network control packets to be generated.  This faulty sequence of control packets in turn affected the apportionment of software resources in the IMPs, causing one of the IMP  processes to  use  an  excessive  amount  of resources, to the detriment of other  IMP  processes.   Restoring  the  network  to  operational condition  was  a  relatively straightforward task.  There was no damage other than the outage itself,  and  no  residual  problems once  the  network  was  restored”.

In short, it was the first time. The internet is a very resilient network, but it can go down sometimes, so keep that in mind.

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