A Look At How Egypt Shut Down The Internet

from the a-few-phone-calls dept

With Egypt taking the extreme step of shutting down the internet last week, a lot of people started wondering just how does a country go about doing that. According to a report by Ryan Singel at Wired, the answer appears to be with a series of phone calls to ISPs. Wired published this telling image from Arbor Networks, that shows just how dramatic the cut off was:

The report notes that while there isn’t anything like a big red “stop the internet” button, and there are a variety of different internet providers, it’s still possible to shut them all down with just a few phone calls. And you can kind of see that in the fact that the turn off didn’t all happen exactly at once, but there were a series of drops over the course of a few hours, leading up to that big drop off. The report does note that at least one ISP, Noor, appears to still be operating, which appears to represent that tiny bit of blue at the bottom of the chart.

It looks like ISPs as a bottleneck may be yet another piece of internet infrastructure that’s a bit too centralized.

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Comments on “A Look At How Egypt Shut Down The Internet”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Most smaller countries have a limited number of ISPs and a limited number of income connections. Basically, they each hit their BGP and remove all routes, and within seconds, the outside internet no longer exists.

I would not be shocked to see more and more governments work to get control of the internet connectivity, as it is a powerful tool. Islamic countries are pretty agressive about blocking certain things on the internet, which means there is already good communication between authorities and the ISPs.

Benny6Toes (profile) says:


It wasn’t just the reporting of the riots Mubarak’s government was trying to stop. I’d say that wasn’t even the primary purpose. The internet is was being used to organize and advertise the demonstrations so it got shut down. Preventing the internal reporting on the web was sort of a bonus (obviously the lack of internet connectivity hasn’t stopped reporting).

As for Obama and a good number of Republicans…really? You think they’re salivating over this? You didn’t think they knew this was possible to begin with after the telcos rolled over on warrantless wiretaps, etc.?

Kevin (profile) says:


Regardless of the riots that were to occur you could also surmise there was a rise in activity based on people simply trying to find out what is going on. People communicating with family, friends, governments, and businesses looking to get out ahead of what they thought (at the time) was a potential explosive situation. Not all of the increased activity could be directly linked to the riots that eventually/were happened/happening.

Anonymous Coward says:

“It looks like ISPs as a bottleneck may be yet another piece of internet infrastructure that’s a bit too centralized.”

This sentence makes absolutely no sense. Clearly, you understood that it was MANY ISPs, as you stated it yourself. How could they possibly be more decentralized? It’s the country’s LAW that made them able to shut down “the internet” not the fact that anything was centralized. Even if there were 200 000 ISPs, it would have only taken a few more phonecalls and would have not prevented anything.

TheStupidOne says:


Yes, because they took my binky. Binky of course refers to my only source of unfiltered news and communication. Also the medium through which billions of dollars is added to the GDP. And of course we can’t forget that my binky is the fastest and most efficient method of organizing resistance against a government that is not in the best interest of the citizens. I love my binky

Another Anonymous Poster says:

Government Controlled Internet

Do you honestly believe that various government agencies don’t already effectively control the Internet in the US? The Patriot Act and other laws pretty much put every ISP/Telcom under their jurisdiction/control. Maybe facilitating snooping and providing historical data is as far as they are going today, but I imagine that most ISPs would pull the plug if faced with a government order in the guise of national security.

Chuck Money (profile) says:

Competition, anyone?

Well, if you ever need an argument in favor of having multiple, reasonable ISP choices in the same market, here you have it. If the US Government decides to cry “patriot act” or “terrorism” and shut down the internet in the US, what do they really have to do? Well…call Comcast, AT&T, HughesNet, Charter, and about 5 other ISPs and bingo, the internet is 95% offline. I mean, the moment they start screaming “national security” at a CIO at 3AM and he can’t get the company’s CEO on the phone to argue/bribe/whatever the NSA/CIA/FBI/etc then it’s all over, the internet is freaking gone. This is the #1 reason there should NEVER be ANY monopoly in ANY industry, PERIOD. If nothing else, having a large number of small companies increases the odds that the government can’t shut down or take over all of it.

I’d vote for a law stating that no company may ever possess more than 10% of any market, or if it does, it must pay every single penny of profit it makes above 10% of the market to the government as taxes. Under this model, small businesses would thrive (of course, in return, they’d pay MUCH lower taxes) and large corporations woudl be forced to pay their fair share. No loopholes, no write-offs, nothing. If you own more than 10% of your market, fine, but you can’t profit from it, period.

A bit extreme? Maybe, but so is picking up the phone for 5 minutes and shutting down the whole damn internet!

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