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Syria Internet Hit by 20-Hour Blackout; Government Blamed

Syria Internet Hit by 20-Hour Blackout; Government Blamed
By Barry Levine

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The Syrian military has been accused of using Net and phone blackouts as a weapon on other occasions in the civil war, often during military actions that the opposition has said resulted in large numbers of civilian deaths. In the Syrian towns of Banias and Baida, for instance, communications were shut down during what the opposition said were the executions of hundreds.

Syria's Internet and phone system is working again. The resumption of service followed a nearly 20-hour blackout for the entire country, and outside organizations have said the government is likely to blame.

The aim, according to the anti-government opposition, was to close off the ability to release video and information about the conflict, which has raged for two years and caused the deaths of more than 70,000. According to information from Google, Akamai and others, Internet traffic stopped about 3 p.m. EDT Tuesday and resumed about 10 a.m. EDT Wednesday to normal levels. The blackout reportedly affected the entire country.

Bakr Bakr, the director general of the government's General Establishment for Communications, told the Syrian state news agency that there had been a malfunction in a single fiber optic cable.

Border Gateway Protocol

A spokesperson for Akamai said that Syria's international connectivity uses at least four providers, and that at least three major submarine cables from the country continued to be active throughout the blackout. The spokesperson said it was unlikely that one cable's outage could have caused such a shutdown.

Internet security firm CloudFlare told The New York Times that Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) routes into the country were disrupted by someone who had physical access to connections. BGP information is required for Net routers to know where a particular IP address is located. One security firm, Umbrella Security Labs, said that normally there are 80 routes in Syria's BGP routing tables, but during the blackout there were only three.

CloudFlare founder Matthew Prince said this was "akin to someone removing all the street signs into Syria." A similar technique was used in a blackout last November, which the government blamed on "terrorists," but outsiders said the evidence indicated the government was to blame.

'Deliberate Attempt'

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had been informed by sources in the Syrian military that the blackout was part of an operation by the military. The Electronic Freedom Foundation issued a statement expressing deep concern that "this blackout is a deliberate attempt to silence Syria's online communications and further draw a curtain over grave events currently unfolding on the ground."

The military has been accused of using Net and phone blackouts as a weapon of war on other occasions in the civil war, often during military actions that the opposition has said resulted in large numbers of civilian deaths. In the towns of Banias and Baida, for instance, communications were shut down during what the opposition said were the executions of hundreds of men, women and children.

The Syrian opposition has been heavy users of two-way satellite devices for Net and cellphone connectivity, instead of the country's infrastructure. However, the satellite devices can be used by the Syrian military to track the rebels' locations.

Shutting down Net connections to keep anti-government forces from communicating with each other and the outside world has been used by governments in other uprisings, such as during the demonstrations in Egypt.

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