Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Syria Has Dropped Off the Internet, Again

syria-featureVarious Internet traffic monitors — including Google and Akamai — are reporting that Internet traffic into and out of Syria has ground to a halt again.

Right now, Google is showing that none of its products are available in Syria, since a little before 3 pm ET, or about two hours ago as of this writing. Here’s a screen grab of Google’s graphic showing the dropoff.

syria_outage_050713

Akamai has been tracking the outage as well, according to this Tweet from @NMSyria. I’ve reached out to Akamai for a little more color (to the extent that any is available).


Internet seems to have been shut down across all of #Syria. http://t.co/m6hVLroVRF
@NMSyria
NMSyria

akamai_syria-50713

The last time this happened was in November of last year, and that outage, like so much else going on in that country torn apart by civil war, has never been fully explained. The outage lasted about two days.

Last time, the folks at Renesys, a research firm that tracks the health of the Internet’s underlying plumbing, noticed that all five networks bringing Internet traffic into Syria went down more or less at once.

That’s fairly easy to carry out logistically because pretty much all Internet traffic in and out of that country is funneled through one point: The state-run, state-controlled Syrian Telecommunications Establishment, and all Internet providers operate out of a single building. The companies that provide Internet connections going into Syria are PCCW and Turk Telekom as the primary providers, with Telecom Italia and Tata providing additional capacity.

There are four physical cables that bring bandwidth into Syria and three of them land in the coastal city of Tartus. A fourth comes in from Turkey to the north.

Chances are, routers in the telecommunications building were reconfigured to stop announcing themselves in the global routing tables, essentially making them invisible to the rest of the Internet.

The question — as with the last time this happened — is why now?

Update: Umbrella Security Labs CTO has a blog post on what that company says is going on:

Currently both TLD (top-level domain) servers for Syria, ns1.tld.sy and ns2.tld.sy are unreachable. The remaining two nameservers sy.cctld.authdns.ripe.net. and pch.anycast.tld.sy. are reachable since they are not within Syria.

It goes on in more technical detail:

Routing on the Internet relies on the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP). BGP distributes routing information and makes sure all routers on the Internet know how to get to a certain IP address. When an IP range becomes unreachable it will be withdrawn from BGP, this informs routers that the IP range is no longer reachable.

Like I said, the routers in the telecommunications building have been reset and have stopped announcing themselves to the rest of the world, making them essentially nonexistent until they come back on.

Second update: Apparently there are a few people who still have access. Some people have the means to install satellite-based Internet connections that are independent of government-controlled connections, according to a Tweet by Basma Atassi, a journalist with Al-Jazeera.


Only activists who can afford to install SAT internet are online. Family, friends and most of the hardworking activists are offline #Syria
@Basma_
Basma Atassi | بسمة

Also Renesys has now confirmed the outage.


Renesys confirms loss of Syrian Internet connectivity 18:43 UTC. BGP routes down, inbound traces failing. @
@renesys
Renesys Corporation

Here’s a graphic of its monitoring, broken down by inbound service provider.

renesys_syria-5713

Third update: Google has just reactivated its Speak To Tweet service for people who still have working phone lines in Syria.


.@ available to help people communicate if they have working phone connection. #SyriaBlackout http://t.co/oRg3jCVDQX
@google
A Googler

This is a service that Google created during the Internet outages in Egypt in 2011 that allows people with working phone lines to leave messages that can be seen and heard by people outside the country via a Twitter account that records the audio.

To use it, you leave a voicemail message on one of four international phone numbers (details here). If word reaches anyone in the affected area, you can listen for messages here.

Fourth update: Syria Digital Reports, a project of Canada’s SecDev Group and which has been following ongoing updates on Syrian infrastructure in real time (power and water and phone service in addition to Internet) and which also provides digital tools to help people in that country maintain digital safety and security, is now reporting that phone service — both wireless and land lines — has been cut off as well.


Confirmed, landlines and cellphones are down in #Syria#Syriablackout @
@DSRSyria
SyriaDigitalReports

Fifth update: Here’s how the outage looked as it happened live on video. Courtesy a software engineer at Storify named Frederic Jacobs.


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