Turns Out Egypt Did Have An Internet Kill Switch

from the flip-the-switch dept

After Egypt shut off internet access a few weeks back, most of the analysis of how it was done suggested in basically involved calling all of the country’s ISPs and ordering them to shut down access. Yet, a new report claims it really was more of a “kill switch” scenario, in that the majority of the shut-off came from flipping a single switch in the Ramses exchange — a key data center in Cairo. That didn’t stop everything, so the rest was accomplished with a few phone calls — but it was that switch flip that did most of the work.

The same report notes, as we predicted, that the economic impact of the shutdown were pretty big:

The presentation suggests the weeklong shutdown had severe effects on Egypt?s economy, in the short term from loss of commerce, and in the long term from a likely plummet in tourism, and an exodus of call centers from Egypt.

The presentation concludes that the ministry?s course of action in obeying the orders may have some positive effects in the future: ?Itʼs unlikely that Egyptʼs communications ministry will ever be asked to flip that switch again.?

Well, hopefully it also makes other countries aware of the negative impacts of killing off internet access.

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Comments on “Turns Out Egypt Did Have An Internet Kill Switch”

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Jay says:


Does this mean that if AT&T is threatened they won’t have a switch given to the president to shut off the internet?

How it’s set up, it’s unlikely that our government will actually stop the money train that is AT&T from getting what it wants, regardless of the consequences.

So it’s more than likely that should this actually become part of our legislation, we’ll continue to see monopolistic competition in the US.

Drizzt says:

Re: Question...

Well, each ISP has sort of a switch and can shut down their own network. But what is suggested in the cited article is, that the government went to the CIX (or whatever form that has in Egypt). And that is really a problem, because if the relevant CIX sits in the country which likes to turn off internet access, the government just needs to pull the plug there to severely cripple the net in the country (and most likely neighbouring ones too). Depending on how the network is set up in your country a few might still have service (whenever there is one ISP with an independent connection not willing to bough to the government or if you live close enough to the border to be reached by wireless services from the neighbouring country).

But AFAIK in Egypt the providers bowed to the will of the government (on might argue they didn’t have much of a choice) and the government just threatened they’d pull the plug in the CIX (which was probably not very likely as the government allowed one ISP to continue service, rumour has it, that that ISP had certain vital (read Suez Canal) services in its net block, though I haven’t been able to confirm this; but it would at least explain why they didn’t force the remaining ISP to shut down too)).


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Wouldn’t surprise me one bit that we already have the switch in place, just not the legislation to justify actually flipping it without public outrage.

You know they will flip it one day, and blame it on a cyber attack, making the whole thing on a severely distorted interpretation of the patriot act somehow.

Shane C (profile) says:

That doesn't quite make sense

This hypothesis doesn’t quite make sense when you look at the traffic during that period of time;


The graph didn’t just bottom out, it declined in steps. At one point it even steps up a little bit as (presumably) traffic is rerouted from one “failing” connection, to another.

I’m not saying the “One Big Kill Switch” theory isn’t true, just that it doesn’t appear to match the facts.


teka (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The point is that a huge portion of an interconnected web of systems all tied to a single spot that could be shut down.

Its like never realizing that all of the traffic in your town routes around to a single intersection, and one day a single small fender-bender (or road-cones, the analogy is getting stretched a bit) serves to shut down everything.

And i am certain that the concept of “internet disconnect” came up somewhere.

politically connected manager: We have to find a we to shut down all internet traffic!

reluctant IT tech: well, in theory if you simply shut down This data-switch here, it will shut down all the data flow between here and everywhere, but i don’t suggest..

politically connected manager: Brilliant! Throw The Switch!

Joel Coehoorn says:

Accident of Engineering

This was an accident of engineering more than a design of government.

If you’re looking to bring a new fiber to link to Egypt, where are you gonna put it? It’s just natural that most of Egypt’s outside access hits Cairo first. There might be a dumb relay elsewhere (say, on the Mediterranean Coast), but to keep average latency down you’ll want the first real routing hop for your link to be in Cairo. And it makes sense most of the links in Cairo would be in just one or two places that could be turned off just by cutting the power.

Beta (profile) says:

sticking my tongue in a light socket is good because...

The presentation concludes that the ministry?s course of action in obeying the orders may have some positive effects in the future: ?Itʼs unlikely that Egyptʼs communications ministry will ever be asked to flip that switch again.?

The quotation is from the presentation, but “positive effects” comes from Wired. In the context of the presentation, the quote could be read as “they’ll never make THAT mistake again”. Honestly, I can’t understand how anyone could consider it a “positive effect, unless a) they’re so authoritarian that they think teaching the people not to speak out is worth crippling the economy, or b) they’re so stupid that they think doing something stupid and getting burned is a smart way to avoid doing that stupid thing in the future. (And considering that Homeland Security wrote the presentation, both are possible.)

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