Internet In Syria Down, Country Remains Offline

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

Follow on: Google +

An ongoing outage cuts Syria off from the rest of the world

Late on Tuesday, inbound and outbound traffic from Syria dropped significantly, prompting experts from Umbrella Security Labs to say the country had “largely disappeared from the Internet”.

The outage has lasted 14 hours and is still ongoing, making it one of the more serious cases of Internet disruption since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011. At the moment, both Top-Level Domain (TLD) servers located in the country remain down, leaving hundreds of thousands of residents without any connection to the outside world.

Update: The outage lasted around nine hours, Syrian websites are back online.

Flatline

The Syrian government has manipulated Internet access since the middle of 2011. In July 2012, Renesas reported that all networks routed through the incumbent ISP, Syrian Telecommunications Establishment, went down for around 40 minutes. In November, the outage lasted three days, with some residents reporting their mobile and landline connections were also affected. In December, there was another massive drop in traffic as the rebel forces fought with President Bashar al-Assad’s army.

Clenched fist handThe current incident began around 19:45 GMT, with ns1.tld.sy and ns2.tld.sy nameservers going down, which meant no website in the .sy domain space could remain online. Google’s Transparency Report data shows all Web traffic from Syria disappearing shortly after.

According to Dan Hubbard, CTO of Umbrella Security, on Tuesday these servers and many others suddenly became inaccessible through the usual Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) route. At the time of writing, there were just three routes in the BGP routing tables for Syria, as opposed to the usual number of around eighty.

“Although we can’t yet comment on what caused this outage, past incidents were linked to both government-ordered shutdowns and damage to the infrastructure, which included fibre cuts and power outages,” commented Hubbard.

may_7_syrian_internet_traffic_drop

 

“While heavily censored, monitored, and compromised, the Internet has served as an important window connecting the world at large to Syria, and one way that international observers could connect with individuals on the ground in that country,” wrote Danny O’Brien from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“A number of activists on the ground in Syria have access to  Internet via satellite links, which can connect them to the Internet but carries a high risk for detection, which can be life threatening.”

CloudFlare noted that withdrawing the BGP routes is the same technique that was used to disrupt Syrian Internet access in November 2012.

Bashar al-Assad is no stranger to hi-tech warfare. His regime has been previously accused of using complex Internet surveillance kits to spy on rebels and infect activists’ computers with malware.

How well do you know Internet security? Try our quiz and find out!