Egyptian Revolt Unquelled By Total Comms Blackout

Within hours, Egypt was isolated from the outside world as the comms infrastructure was completely kettled

As violence flares in Egypt, the Internet is totally blocked, the mobile phone networks are down and landlines have been disconnected. The government is believed to have taken these steps to prevent the protesters from co-ordinating their actions.

The action leaves 20 million Internet users and 50 million mobile phone users disconnected and is sure to further anger the protesters.

The revolt is focused on forcing the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, to resign and to elect a government that will act to right the inequalities that have arisen during Mubarak’s 30-year tenure. Initially, Twitter was removed from the country’s networks but now the blackout is total.

Internet structure simplified shut down

Picture from Aljazeera

The total shut down of the electronic communications has not quenched the fires of revolt and there are pitched battles between the authorities and the thousands of protestors in every major city in Egypt.

Digital kettling, the closing down of the Intenet infrastructure in Egypt, was relatively easy because it has a very simple structure. In Europe and the US, the inter-networked topology of the web would make it virtually impossible to silence the Internet as quickly as it happened in Egypt.

The country is served by only four ISPs but it appears that the government ordered the shutdown of the local Domain Name System (DNS) and Border Gateway Protocol, rendering it impossible for the ISPs to direct traffic. The network came to a standstill within two hours, according to Arbor Networks (see graph below).

Only one ISP, Noor Data Networks, is still contactable. Whether or not the ISP can function effectively within Egypt is not known, but there have been reports of intermittent Internet access outside the larger conurbations.

“This sudden severing of Internet connectivity appears to have all occurred at a similar time and the assumption must be that it is a part of officially sanctioned tactics to attempt to contain the growing political unrest in the country,” blogged Rik Ferguson, senior security advisor at Trend Micro. “The crackdown first started with the censoring of social networks in the country but, as Iran learned, determined people quickly find ways around this with help from the outside world.”

This is the first time a government has engineered a complete shutdown of electronic communications to hinder civil unrest but it could set a precedent for the future.

“If, indeed, this action is officially directed then it would seem that the regime in Egypt has learned lessons from the Iranian attempts to censor communications there last year and taken even more drastic measures,” Ferguson wrote. “This action is unprecedented in Internet history.”