Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Someone May Have Tweeted Warnings Ahead of Syrian Internet Outage

syria380-featureIt has been about 24 hours since the latest Internet outage in the war-torn nation of Syria has ended. What still isn’t known, and probably won’t be known for some time, is why it occurred in the first place.

Numerous theories abound. The most common one appears to be that the 20-hour outage gave government officials time to install some kind of new surveillance gear on the networks. The other is that it was intended to disrupt the ability of rebel groups fighting against the regime to communicate during a specified time window. Both would make some certain amount of sense.

Officially, at least according to the state news agency SANA, a “damaged optic cable” is being blamed. As I’ve written and numerous others have observed, this explanation is unlikely. The main reason is that all four cables bringing Internet capacity into the country meet at the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment office in Damascus. Three cables come in by sea and one over land via Turkey. For the whole country to go down as it did, all four would have had to fail at the same time.

But here’s another interesting wrinkle: At least two accounts on Twitter monitored by the Canada-based Syria Digital Security Project appear to have warned on April 26 about a coming nationwide Internet outage.

First there was this tweet, in Arabic, from @AnonymousPress:


النظام السوري قد يقطع كل الاتصالات والموبايل والانترنت في #سوريا في الأول من أيار 2013 (إقرأ المزيد وأنشر) http://t.co/qcZQ2y9JfA #Syria
@AnonymousPress
Anonymous Press

The translation, via Google Translate, refers to plans by the Syrian regime to “cut off all communication and mobile Internet” on the “first of May.” It then links to a document on Pastebin that has since been removed.

A second tweet the same day, from @TelecomixBSRE, warned of coming outages during a Syrian holiday period which took place, SevDev says, between May 1 and May 6:


#Syria Regime plans 2 cut ALL telecoms, Net & Mobile over holidays, possibility of Massacres, B CAREFUL, via #TelecomixSyria #RT #Telecomix
@TelecomixBSRE
Telecomix BSRE

SecDev also notes in its report that this is the third such nationwide outage in Syria since the civil war began. The first outage, in November, lasted about two days and change. A second, which I didn’t know about, occurred in January, and coincided with a speech given by President Bashar al-Assad.

In another interesting Syria-related development, security blogger Brian Krebs reported today that domain registrar Network Solutions has seized about 700 domain names belonging to organizations in Syria. (Here’s a PDF document containing a list.)

The seizures appear to have gotten the attention of the pro-Assad hacking group known as the Syrian Electronic Army. A report on the group produced by security researchers at Hewlett-Packard noted public complaints by the group that it had lost control of at least two domains it had been using.

The Syrian Electronic Army, you’ll remember, is the group known for a series of attacks against the Twitter accounts of numerous Western media organizations, most notably one belonging to the Associated Press. Other accounts attacked by the group have belonged to CBS News, National Public Radio, the BBC and The Onion.

It turns out that selling domain name registration services to entities in Syria is prohibited by U.S. law because of trade sanctions.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald