Map of the day II: Lighting up the Internet


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From John Matherly, founder of the search engine Shodan, a new look at most of the devices hooked up to the Internet as of four days ago.

CNN Money profiled Shodan in an April, 2013 feature, declaring it “the scariest search engine on the Internet.”:

“When people don’t see stuff on Google, they think no one can find it. That’s not true.”

That’s according to John Matherly, creator of Shodan, the scariest search engine on the Internet.

Unlike Google (GOOG), which crawls the Web looking for websites, Shodan navigates the Internet’s back channels. It’s a kind of “dark” Google, looking for the servers, webcams, printers, routers and all the other stuff that is connected to and makes up the Internet. (Shodan’s site was slow to load Monday following the publication of this story.)

Shodan runs 24/7 and collects information on about 500 million connected devices and services each month.

It’s stunning what can be found with a simple search on Shodan. Countless traffic lights, security cameras, home automation devices and heating systems are connected to the Internet and easy to spot.

Shodan searchers have found control systems for a water park, a gas station, a hotel wine cooler and a crematorium. Cybersecurity researchers have even located command and control systems for nuclear power plants and a particle-accelerating cyclotron by using Shodan.

The search engine can be blocked, a step more users are following.

Matherly told Softpedia in January that blocking — a move then contemplated by the Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point, doesn’t necessarily work out for the best for those who employ it:

[I]t’s only taking information away from the good guys. Attackers have their own tools of the trade to discover insecure equipment, blocking Shodan does nothing to prevent harm. Hundreds of thousands of devices have been secured on the Internet because a security researcher used Shodan to find improperly configured services and notified proper authorities. The most recent example is the leaking of data via public MongoDB instances, which were only detected and secured because of Shodan.

The bad guys have had similar tools long before Shodan existed and they will continue to use those because Shodan isn’t an anonymous service. We take many steps to limit abuse and make sure the data is only used by good guys. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence to show that Shodan has been a force for good and helped make the Internet safer.

Most companies actually take the opposite stance of Check Point: use Shodan to check whether you’re running anything on the Internet that you didn’t expect! This is especially true for organizations that don’t have a large IT security budget (ex. small businesses and universities).

The Internet is a massive power hog

All of those dots on Matherly maps represent far more than Internet use. They also signal the emergence of a vast and growing energy hog.

In a 23 January report, the Independent covered the most massive energy hogs:

This wouldn’t be a problem if these facilities – which range from a small room with a few servers to vast 150,000 square metre “farms” – didn’t consume such enormous amounts of energy.

Already, data centres have mushroomed from virtually nothing 10 years ago to consuming about 3 per cent of the global electricity supply and accounting for about 2 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions. That gives it the same carbon footprint as the airline industry.

To put the size of this consumption into even sharper relief – the 416.2 terawatt hours of electricity the world’s data centres used last year was significantly higher than the UK’s total consumption of about 300 terawatt hours.

Massive as data centre energy use may already be, this is nothing to what lies in store, analysts warn. Ian Bitterlin, Britain’s foremost data centre expert and a visiting professor at the University of Leeds, says the amount of energy used by data centres is doubling every four years – despite the innovations in hardware that massively increase their capacity to store data. As a result, analysts forecast that data centres will consume roughly treble the amount of electricity in the next decade.

And that’s just for the centers hosting the data [and we don’t know if the huge data centers built by the world’s spy agencies like the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ, are included in the totals, facilities dwarfing even Google’s].

Add in the electricity used by your computers, monitors, televisions [for streaming films and other video], and the numbers grow much larger.

Five years ago, two academics from India and the U.S. profiled electricity use by personal electronics, including computers, phones, and laptops, and found that data centers only accounted for a seventh of the total.

From their report:

Personal computing related electricity vs. global electricity use.

Personal computing related electricity vs. global electricity use.

As Elektor reported in three years ago:

Direct electricity use of the Internet is probably around 10% of total electricity consumption, said Jon Koomey, Research Fellow at Stanford University but he immediately added that the number does not tell us very much.

Koomey, who has been studying Internet energy effects since 2000, was a keynote speaker at Google’s ‘How green is the Internet?’ summit, held June 6 at the Googleplex. There experts discussed the system-wide energy implications of information technology.

First of all there is the data gap. Ironically, IT -master of data collection- falls short when it comes to gathering extensive and well-defined data about its own energy consumption. Secondly, electricity is only a part of the Internet’s total energy cost, fabrication of equipment should also be taken into account. Last and perhaps most important when it comes to getting a good measure of the Internet’s overall environmental impact are system effects. These are IT-enabled energy savings in larger scale systems like transportation or manufacturing.

Of all the different network components the ones that consume the most electricity are end user devices. Per unit they don’t use much, desktops and notebooks run on 200 and 70 kWh/year respectively. But the numbers add up: 1.6 billion connected PCs and notebooks and 6 billion mobile devices.

Bear in mind also that the numbers don’t include all those devices, from refrigerators to air, conditioners, furnaces, home security systems, and more that have been hooked up to the web through the Internet of Things.

Our digital addiction, in short, is a huge and rapidly increasing energy hog, energy that is derived increasingly from burning coal.

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