The internet is a collection of connected computer networks, linking tens of billions of devices across the globe. These include servers, personal computers, mobile telephones and video game consoles. Increasingly, other devices are also being connected to the internet, such as cars and domestic appliances. Devices connected to the internet are connected to each other through network links. These links can be either physical cables or wireless connections. Physical cables come in an array of shapes and sizes, ranging from small cables used to directly link two computers together, to large undersea cables connecting continents. Wireless connections, though not visible, work on similar scales, from Wi-Fi networks in the home to links to satellites in space. Communications on the internet may traverse any combination of these network links, and they have become a hotly contested topic in international relations.
Though often used synonymously, the internet is not the same as the ‘world wide web’ (www). The web is just one of many services operating on the internet, accessed through a web browser to display documents containing text, images and other media. Examples of other services on the internet include email, voice and video communications and online gaming. The distinction between the internet and the web is important as conflating technological concepts can have severe repercussions in the area of laws and regulations where precise wording is paramount. Throughout this chapter, the internet should be envisaged as the whole gamut of connected digital devices and services. When individual devices or services are discussed in detail, it will be made explicitly clear which device or service is being talked about.