Syria Dropping Off The Internet In 2012 Was Result Of NSA Hack Gone Wrong, Not Syrian Government

from the because-of-course-it-was dept

You may recall that, back in 2012, Syria suddenly dropped off the face of the internet. It actually happened twice. There was all sorts of speculation about how it happened.

At the time, Cloudflare’s analysis was one of the most thorough, noting that it almost certainly “was done through updates in router configurations” rather than a physical failure or a cable cut or something. Of course, everyone assumed that it was the Syrian government, trying to cut off access to the outside world.

However, in James Bamford’s big Wired article about Ed Snowden, Snowden reveals it was actually an NSA hack gone wrong:

One day an intelligence officer told him that TAO?a division of NSA hackers?had attempted in 2012 to remotely install an exploit in one of the core routers at a major Internet service provider in Syria, which was in the midst of a prolonged civil war. This would have given the NSA access to email and other Internet traffic from much of the country. But something went wrong, and the router was bricked instead?rendered totally inoperable. The failure of this router caused Syria to suddenly lose all connection to the Internet?although the public didn’t know that the US government was responsible. (This is the first time the claim has been revealed.)

Inside the TAO operations center, the panicked government hackers had what Snowden calls an ?oh shit? moment. They raced to remotely repair the router, desperate to cover their tracks and prevent the Syrians from discovering the sophisticated infiltration software used to access the network. But because the router was bricked, they were powerless to fix the problem.

Fortunately for the NSA, the Syrians were apparently more focused on restoring the nation?s Internet than on tracking down the cause of the outage. Back at TAO?s operations center, the tension was broken with a joke that contained more than a little truth: ?If we get caught, we can always point the finger at Israel.?

Thus, it appears that Cloudflare’s speculation that it was done as a router update was entirely correct — just that no one realized it was the NSA that was updating the routers, rather than the Syrians.

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Comments on “Syria Dropping Off The Internet In 2012 Was Result Of NSA Hack Gone Wrong, Not Syrian Government”

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22 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

i’m waiting to see how long it takes for Erdigan in Turkey to start the same shit Assad did. he’s already had Facebook blocked. what do the citizens think he’ll do when there is some sort of rebellion to his laws and how he wants the way of life to be? i think the Turks are going to be in for some bad happenings in the near future. shame!

Anonymous Coward says:

What happens when they strick back?

When would it be acceptable in war for a country to strike back at the US? How many crooked things like this can our government pull on other countries before our civilians become justified targets?

Nothing like constantly pissing off the very people we want nothing to do with.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s possible.

In 2011, Syria had a bit under 5 million internet users. A single high-capacity, multigigabit router could handle that. Although one would think they’d have more than one for redundancy purposes if nothing else. It might be the case that the NSA was installing software on all (both?) of the routers simultaneously and bricked them all, or that their failover mechanism, umm, failed.

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