How To Break The Internet – SOPA/PIPA Edition

Warning – This entry will have some techno speak but hopefully it won’t blow your mind.

Congress is currently considering a pair of bills – Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3261) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (S.968).  Both are bad bills, bought and paid for by the entertainment industry.  Hopefully you’ve seen some of the news stories about it.  If not, well, that wouldn’t surprise me.  Practically every news organization in the United States is owned by a corporation supporting the bill and they haven’t been too eager to share information about opposition to it.

Google has a nice page up to learn More about SOPA and PIPA and why they are bad.  The SOPA Blackout page at has more or you can read up on the American Censorship page.  Check out the videos, they explain it rather succinctly.

To really understand how bad this is, you need to know how the Internet works …

How the Internet Works

The Internet as we know it runs off Domain Names.  A Domain Name is the Address of a webpage –,,, and so forth.  This is how Humans know the Internet.

Guess what?  Your computer doesn’t care.  Really, it doesn’t.  Domain Names exist for Humans.  Computers care about the numbers behind the Domain Name.  Those numbers are known as IP Addresses.  Every website and computer connected to the Internet has a unique IP Address.

In order to handle this, your computer uses what is called a Doman Name Service Server or DNS Server.  This is a number associated with a server that every Internet connected device has – computer, phone, iPod, etc.  These are often assigned by the Internet Service Provider (ISP) that you subscribe to.   The DNS Server translates Domain Names into IP Addresses.

Here’s how this works …

1. You open a web browser (Firefox, Internet Explorer, etc) and type

2. Your computer sends a request to your DNS Server and says “I’m looking for  Where is it?”

3. Your DNS Server sends a request to the Top Level Domain server (the one in charge of .com or .edu or .gov) and says “Where do I go to find out who is in charge of”

4. The Top Level Domain server replies “Network Solutions” (i.e. the people I registered my domain with).

5. Your DNS Server now queries Network Solutions and asks, “Where is the web server for”

6. Network Solutions checks its records and replies “”.

7. Your DNS Server now asks, “Please send me the web page for”.

8. The server at obliges and sends the web page to your web browser for you to read.

This all happens in a fraction of a second.  There’s a lot more in the background but these are the basics.  Don’t believe me?  Go up to your Address Bar and replace with and hit Enter.  Go ahead, check it out.  I’ll be right here waiting.

Back? Hi there.  Now, my configuration on my web server is a little wonky (you probably got a ‘Page Can’t be Found’ error) but you were still directed to my web page, weren’t you?

SOPA/PIPA seeks to break this.  The bill would force Domain Registrars like Network Solutions to redirect traffic of Domain Names suspected of piracy.  So in step #6, Network Solutions would reply with a false address, forcibly sending you to another site that likely will display some scary looking warning stating “THIS SITE IS DISTRIBUTING ILLEGAL SOFTWARE.” or some other garbage.

The way SOPA/PIPA are written, the language is extremely broad and vague.  It means that as a Domain Name owner, I am liable for anything posted to my domain.  Blog posts, comments, links, etc.  This site is small – imagine Wikipedia or YouTube or Slashdot or Facebook?  Author John Scalzi puts is like this: It’s “the equivalent of dealing with burglars in someone’s home by carpet bombing every house on the street. You might stop the burglar, but the collateral damage makes it a hollow victory.”

Besides, it won’t work.  All you need is the IP Address of a Domain Name in order to get around this so-called anti-piracy measure.

How to Find Out An IP Address

1. Windows: Click on Start or the Windows button and type cmd in the Run/Search box and press Enter.

Mac: Click on Go – Applications – Utilities – Terminal.

2. In the box that appears, type ping (or whatever domain name you want) and press Enter.

3. You will see something like this:

4. Take the number you see immediately behind the domain name and substitute it for the Domain Name in your web browser.

5. Press Enter and you’ve just bypassed SOPA/PIPA.

You can screw with the Domain Names but you cannot screw with the IP Addresses.  As I mentioned before, these are unique to every single Internet connected device.  You *cannot* have the same IP Address assigned to multiple machines.   Well, in theory you could but doing so would break the very fundamentals of the Internet.  You would have essentially a closed network.  There are places that have these – China, Iran, Syria, and North Korea come to mind.

Now, don’t for a second think I encourage piracy or I’m ignorant of Intellectual Property rights.  I’m a writer.  This has the potential to become my livelihood.  But SOPA and PIPA are bad ways of doing it.  We can find a better way.  The OPEN Act is one possibility, though personally I’m loath to suggest anything that might resemble censorship.

Do your homework.  Pay attention.  Or we can trust the geniuses that keep bringing us such masterpieces as The Last Airbender, Reality Television, or anything involving the Kardashians.

It’s your choice.