Shutting Down the Internet Isn't as Easy as Donald Trump Thinks

What it would take to shut down "areas" of the Internet.

ByABC News
December 16, 2015, 1:09 PM

— -- Shutting down the Internet isn't as simple as pulling the plug or calling Bill Gates.

Donald Trump, the GOP front-runner acknowledged at Tuesday night’s presidential debate that he would be open to "closing" down parts of the Internet in order to combat the Islamic State, a.k.a. ISIS. Trump's idea hasn't included any technical specifics other than calling on "our most brilliant minds" to help get the job done.

Cutting off parts of the Internet has been done -- perhaps most notably when Egypt shut off nearly all of its Internet access during the Arab Spring in 2011. Egypt was able to block most Internet access by withdrawing more than 3,500 Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) routes, according to Renesys, a networking firm. These are important because they're the path between the Internet Service Provider and the users, so without them, the Internet doesn't work for people who rely on those paths.

The move left "virtually all of Egypt's Internet addresses" unreachable for people outside of the country and people in Egypt cut off from the Internet, so Trump's plan to cut off the Internet is possible, but cutting off all of those BGP routes ISIS is using in the Middle East to access the Internet would be more of a challenge, experts said.

"The Internet as a whole could only be shut down if some form of catastrophic event [happened] like a solar flare," Robert Siciliano, an online safety expert with Intel Security, told ABC News. "Otherwise the Internet is set up as a redundant network run by many different companies, government agencies and others. This means if one segment of the Internet was to go down, other parts of it would still be operational."

So while it is possible to shut down parts of the Internet, it's likely a computer savvy member of ISIS would be able to find another way to get online.