War is often distilled into horrific and hopeless stories observed in the news, thousands of miles away. But conflicts can influence businesses in ways, no matter how far removed they are from the areas geographically.
Four of the major backbone internet transit cables that connect Europe to Asia, run through areas of conflict in the Middle East and Ukraine, as the map below shows.
This means major parts of the globe's wide area networks are at risk of disruption as a result of exchanges being damaged or destroyed or even an entire backbone cable severed.
Such events may not completely disrupt the internet traffic between Europe to Asia, but they do lead to data traffic being re-routed, which increases latency.
Map showing route of major internet cables through war zones - produced by Dyn
This adds to the time it takes for online services to be delivered and websites to load, which is never a good thing. Even short delays can lead to potential customers getting bored or distracted, resulting to them taking their business elsewhere.
As a company that provides services to ensure that data is dynamically routed to avoid areas of disruption, internet performance company Dyn has a unique insight into the flow of data traffic on the internet's many connected networks.
With its monitoring capabilities, the company can see the disruptive effect of conflict on the virtual highways of the internet.
In a discussion with V3, Dyn CEO Jeremy Hitchcock detailed how recent events in the Middle East have affected the flow of web traffic.
"Probably the best [example] are conflicts in the Middle East. During the Arab Spring Egypt decided to shut off the internet to it population, so one of the things people said is we need to have alternative paths from Asia," he said.
Disruption can be caused by collateral damage or direct military interference, he said. A shell taking out a region's power supplies can result in a ‘brownout' that can disrupt the transfer of data on the transit cables, for example.
Hitchcock also described how military forces advancing into enemy territory will often seize bits of internet infrastructure to secure their own lines of communication while also disrupting that of the enemy.
"We've been watching the Ukrainian-Russian conflict, and there's an interesting parallel with what you would be doing with ground forces and what you would be doing to support the logistics of those ground forces, including telecommunications assets," he said.
Thanks to sensors dotted around the web, the company can detect all manner of threats to traffic flow, not just those resulting from armed conflicts or geopolitical power plays.
Dyn can see when unexpectedly large volumes of traffic are being directed at a specific area indicating a potential denial of service attack - information that allows users of its service to take action to avoid such areas.
The company even gets an insight into the more clandestine activity being carried out on the web. Though Hitchcock would not reveal the parties involved, he said Dyn can see when web traffic is being diverted for surveillance purposes.
"We see all sorts of different anomalies going on; traffic that normally goes through a certain point suddenly goes through Iceland and somebody's looked at that traffic," he said.
Hitchcock argued that internet-centric companies must consider how their traffic and data is piped across continent-spanning networks, noting that even seemingly minuscule delays caused by web latency can have a revenue-reducing effect on even largest online businesses.
"Companies like Microsoft, Google or Amazon, talk about the importance of speed and that every 100ms will change the way in which advertising page loads will affect their top line [revenue]," he said.
As the world becomes more connected, there appears to be increased focus put on exploring ways to monitor the massive flow of data to glean potentially profitable information. While Dyn focuses on internet traffic, others companies such as SAP look to exploit data from networked devices.
Having the ability to monitor data and internet traffic raises numerous questions about privacy and clandestine snooping. Yet regardless of the moral concerns, it is likely 2015 will give rise to new techniques to analyse and harness digital data in ever more sophisticated ways, for good or for ill.
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