How Did Syria Turn Off The Internet... And What Other Countries Can Just Hit The Off Switch Like That?

from the government-cut-off dept

After the internet was almost entirely cut off in Syria last week, it came back over the weekend, and people are still puzzling through exactly what happened. The government keeps trying to blame others, such as attacks by those fighting against government forces. However, an analysis by Cloudflare has made it clear that it's almost certain that the government was behind the shut down:
To begin, all connectivity to Syria, not just some regions, has been cut. The exclusive provider of Internet access in Syria is the state-run Syrian Telecommunications Establishment. Their network AS number is AS29386. The following network providers typically provide connectivity from Syria to the rest of the Internet: PCCW and Turk Telekom as the primary providers with Telecom Italia and TATA for additional capacity. When the outage happened, the BGP routes to Syrian IP space were all simultaneously withdrawn from all of Syria's upstream providers. The effect of this is that networks were unable to route traffic to Syrian IP space, effectively cutting the country off the Internet.

Syria has 4 physical cables that connect it to the rest of the Internet. Three are undersea cables that land in the city of Tartous, Syria. The fourth is an over-land cable through Turkey. In order for a whole-country outage, all four of these cables would have had to been cut simultaneously. That is unlikely to have happened.
Furthermore, they note that the shutdown was quite systematic, suggesting "this was done through updates in router configurations, not through a physical failure or cable cut."

Meanwhile, the folks at Renesys look into just how difficult it is to cut a country off from the internet, and whether other countries are at risk of the same sort of thing. Basically, it comes down to how decentralized the internet is in various countries -- and in many countries there isn't much decentralization. As Renesys notes, some countries have just one or two telcos who handle all internet traffic to and from the world. Those countries are easy to cut off. Renesys helpfully provides a map:
They then go into more details. Here are the two bullet points on the more at risk countries. If you want to learn about the somewhat more safe countries, click on over and read their full post (which has a much bigger discussion on all of this, which I highly recommend):
  • If you have only 1 or 2 companies at your international frontier, we classify your country as being at severe risk of Internet disconnection. Those 61 countries include places like Syria, Tunisia, Algeria, Turkmenistan, Libya, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Myanmar, and Yemen.
  • If you have fewer than 10 service providers at your international frontier, your country is probably exposed to some significant risk of Internet disconnection. Ten providers also seems to be the threshold below which one finds significant additional risks from infrastructure sharing — there may be a single cable, or a single physical-layer provider who actually owns most of the infrastructure on which the various providers offer their services. In this category, we place 72 countries, including Oman, Benin, Botswana, Rwanda, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uganda, Armenia, and Iran. Disconnection wouldn't be trivial, but it wouldn't be all that difficult. Egypt falls into this category as well; it took the Mubarak government several days to hunt down and kill the last connections, but in the end, the blackout succeeded.

As the internet is increasingly a global phenomenon, this kind of stuff matters a lot.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Wally (profile), Dec 3rd, 2012 @ 3:12pm

    "Syria has 4 physical cables that connect it to the rest of the Internet. Three are undersea cables that land in the city of Tartous, Syria. The fourth is an over-land cable through Turkey. In order for a whole-country outage, all four of these cables would have had to been cut simultaneously. That is unlikely to have happened."


    Simple, just cut the lines over at Tartous, Syria that come up from the water, and rely on the new regime to cut the one connecting to and from Turkey.

    It's sad to see a country completely cut off because the government forbids access to innocent people. The only other country that remotely cuts off it's non-elite status citezens is North Korea.

     

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    out_of_the_blue, Dec 3rd, 2012 @ 3:15pm

    Gosh, 4 cables: how COULD they switch off all those at once?

    It's a real mystery. -- Is this the sort of thing you spend a lot of time wondering about, Mike?

     

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      :Lobo Santo (profile), Dec 3rd, 2012 @ 3:18pm

      Re: Gosh, 4 cables: how COULD they switch off all those at once?

      2/10

      Paltry, kinda sad. Is that really the best trolling you can do today?

      Step it up! Try harder!

       

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        out_of_the_blue, Dec 3rd, 2012 @ 3:25pm

        Re: Re: Gosh, 4 cables: how COULD they switch off all those at once?

        Yes, best I can do. Ain't got much to work with here. Thanks for pointing out that even my worst efforts command your attention.

         

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          Gee, Dec 3rd, 2012 @ 3:33pm

          Re: Re: Re: Gosh, 4 cables: how COULD they switch off all those at once?

          Its actually quite nice to know that you just try to troll for the sake of trolling, rather than being some paid corporate shill.

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2012 @ 5:57pm

          Re: Re: Re: Gosh, 4 cables: how COULD they switch off all those at once?

          If by "efforts command your attention", you mean like how a housefly's very presence compels people to smash it to gooey little bits, sure.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Dec 4th, 2012 @ 8:37am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Gosh, 4 cables: how COULD they switch off all those at once?

            Guys, this guys here to dirupt the discussion, if you talk to him or about him/her, then you're not discussing the subject, and he/she will continue, as they see it as effective technique
            Its hard, i know, but keep in mind what there about, and keep a note on what they say, and what story they troll, to get a better understanding

            There was a recent story here about the itu, if i recall correctly, i saw a sentence or two about talking to pr firms in how to, essentially, reduce public opposition, ala, sopa........i would not put it past them, especially if given, leeway and assurances from the people who create and enforce laws......perhaps encouraged

             

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              identicon
              Anonymous Coward, Dec 4th, 2012 @ 8:55am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gosh, 4 cables: how COULD they switch off all those at once?

              I always wonder why no filmakers or documenterers are on this, so much of it is out in the open for people to see

              For instance, there was a recent reddit article on the front page of reddit about the nsa whitleblower, got ALOT of upvotes, and discussions, the video went semi viral......the next day(20hours), the story was at the bottom, later in the day, second page, very distint, seing as this had something like 2000+ votes, whereas every other story at the time, on page two ranged from anywhere between 0 and 300-600.....a pessimist might think that the comments and politcal views, are being vetted in a non obvious and a plausible denialbility kind of way,

              How far will those members in our governments go, if they do not abide to the rights of the people, the topmost foundation of us all

               

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      Wally (profile), Dec 3rd, 2012 @ 3:20pm

      Re: Gosh, 4 cables: how COULD they switch off all those at once?

      Not at all OOTB, unlike you he actually thinks about things before he says them. I thought you were doing so well too...I gues you aim to disappoint.

       

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      silverscarcat (profile), Dec 3rd, 2012 @ 3:36pm

      Re: Gosh, 4 cables: how COULD they switch off all those at once?

      Answer me this, ootb, do you do anything other than post comments which quickly get hit with the 'report' button?

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 4th, 2012 @ 10:47am

      Re: Gosh, 4 cables: how COULD they switch off all those at once?

      This guy is getting beyond a joke. Ban him!

       

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    John, Dec 3rd, 2012 @ 3:22pm

    They were down for scheduled maintained.

    Simply an upgrade to totalitarian system 2.0 with extra new dodgy features.

     

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    John, Dec 3rd, 2012 @ 3:22pm

    They were down for scheduled maintenance.

    Simply an upgrade to totalitarian system 2.0 with extra new dodgy features.

     

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    fb39ca4 (profile), Dec 3rd, 2012 @ 3:31pm

    lol, Greenland is at severe risk. Who knew?

     

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    ECA (profile), Dec 3rd, 2012 @ 4:26pm

    sMALL PROBLEM

    I see this saying Providers..
    But it isnt the providers that give us access from the USA to OUTSIDE the USA..
    There are only 6 TOP TIER companies that HOLD the Nodes for OUT SIDE USA..Could be broken down to 2, if you look at ownership.
    http://bp1.blogger.com/_F8MQ-8DbBQc/R7gSdBOntyI/AAAAAAAAASU/sAjQi4HuqkU/s1600/bandwidth1 .jpg

    I think..
    4 links thru UK/EU
    2-3 to canada
    1-2 Mexico/SOUTH AMERICA
    3-4 ACROSS THE PACIFIC..

    Think it would be hard to shut down? Edit/restrict..NOT hard.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2012 @ 4:30pm

    "As the internet is increasingly a global phenomenon, this kind of stuff matters a lot."

    That's right. And we're so important and perfect and smart that, when you think about it, they should just run everything through us first to get our blessing. But then what would we whine about? I'm sure we can find something. As long as a human being makes a choice in this life, we'll be there to tell them how stupid they are. And if they dare fight back, we'll call them names and throw out all sorts of double talk--but we'll never actually address their criticisms on the merits. We could set up our whole lives this way, just pointing out what idiots everyone else is. But then we'll never talk about ourselves when challenged on even the simplest points. We can't stand it when people challenge us. How dare they. We will look at their IP addresses and throw out innuendos about where they work or what their secret agenda really is. Since our target audience is the dumber people, they won't see that all we have are tricks and deflections but no answers to serious questions. We will do everything possible to discredit anyone who dares to challenge us.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2012 @ 7:47pm

      Re:

      Yes, because we now know EXACTLY who you are, EXACTLY what your job is and EXACTLY where you live.

      For fuck's sake, average_joe, you yourself admitted that you're not even bothering to hide your identity. You're effectively running around screaming while nude and whining about getting arrested over public decency laws. If this is supposed to make Masnick look bad, wow, you're horribly mistaken.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2012 @ 8:57pm

      Re:

      Seriously, your rambling is even making "Blargha flargha!" sound sensible.

       

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    Big Al, Dec 3rd, 2012 @ 5:17pm

    And next is...

    With the Australian government's insistence on a single broadband network (initially government owned and controlled) for the entire country - including all non-mobile telephony, would we now be going green along with central Africa and Greenland?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 4th, 2012 @ 11:53pm

      Re: And next is...

      Doesn't really matter that much, as below is a listing of all the Australian landing points for international undersea cables, just need to snip them and you are done:

      Sydney, Australia
      Alexandria, Sydney, Australia
      Bondi Beach, Australia
      Brookvale, North Sydney, Australia
      Oxford Falls, Australia
      Perth, Australia
      Port Hedland, Australia

      Note that the first 4 are all in/around Sydney.

       

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    lolzzzzz, Dec 3rd, 2012 @ 8:00pm

    Canada

    has 4 majors on the east coast and somehitng like 3 on west and a few also heading south.

    thats enough that it aint gonna happen and if it did so many have wireless that would could with ease mesh wire and hobble a type a net around local cites at least.

     

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      ECA (profile), Dec 4th, 2012 @ 2:43am

      Re: Canada

      hMM,
      interesting..

      And the USA has 6(mostly 1-2) corps that run it all.
      For those that dont get it..
      Cellphones use WIRES..they are still part of the telco.
      THE INTERNET, is still run by the same Telco's..
      Tell the telco's to Shut it down..IT goes OFF.

      There is 1 BACKBONE to the net, phones, cellphones..
      PS..Sat phones are cool, but 1 phone call, and they go down also.

       

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    Mesonoxian Eve (profile), Dec 4th, 2012 @ 4:03am

    We have many telcos in the US, and starting in 2013, they will have the power to cut off individuals from the internet.

    I'm not seeing the US colored in dark green.

    Someone needs to revisit this chart and update it.

     

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    Prashanth (profile), Dec 4th, 2012 @ 4:47am

    There goes my plan

    to move to Greenland if things go further south....

     

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    C, Dec 4th, 2012 @ 10:52am

    Algeria

    They say Algeria is a "severe risk", but on the map it shows only a "significant risk". Do they actually know where Algeria is? It's only the biggest country in Africa.

     

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