Syria Internet Blackout: Government Purposefully Disconnecting from World?

What would it take for an entire country to disconnect from the Internet? While the idea of it may seem implausible, some have alleged that the Syrian government has done just that at least three times over the past year.

It would not have been impossible for government officials in Syria to purposefully disconnect all Internet services within the country say experts. In fact any country with a large amount of government control, under the right conditions, could disconnect Internet if only a few Internet service providers existed.

In Syria there are currently four Internet service providers: PCCW, Turk Telekom, Telecom Italia and TATA; these providers are dependent on the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment (STE) for Internet access. If the Syrian government had control over the STE, which a number of experts believe it does, disconnecting the entire country from the Internet would not be a hard task to accomplish.

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"If those providers are all funneling back into what is, in essence, a single government-controlled gateway to get out of the country, then these independent providers have very little control over the international connectivity," David Belson, the editor of network security firm Akamai's State of the Internet quarterly report, told Mashable.

Jim Cowie, Renesys' Chief Technology Officer, wrote in a 2011 blog that a country with few Internet providers could not only disconnect the Internet easily, but legally as well.

"Under those circumstances (of having few Internet providers), it's almost trivial for a government to issue an order that would take down the Internet," Cowie wrote. "Make a few phone calls, or turn off power in a couple of central facilities, and you've (legally) disconnected the domestic Internet."

To disable the Internet, the government would either have to disconnect STE routers from outside International Internet providers (a physical process), or disconnect Syria's Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) routes from International routing tables (which would require computer programming but not a physical disconnection).

"[It] can be done from a desk anywhere," Belson explained. "Somebody who has that power within the government fires up a terminal window, types a few commands and shuts off the Syrian BGP routes."

Belson, along with other experts, believes that the Syrian government likely used the first option to disconnect Internet based on previous outages in the country and their timing.

"There's been something of a pattern," he said, "where the Internet connectivity has suffered outages and downtime often in relation to politically related events within the country."

The Egyptian government successfully cut off Internet during the early days of its revolution in 2011. Last year, Syria lost Internet connection at least three times.

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