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Syria cut off from Internet as civil war rages

Washington, May 8, 2013

Internet connections between Syria and the outside world were cut off on Tuesday, according to data from Google and other global Internet companies.

Google's Transparency Report pages showed traffic to Google services pages from the country, embroiled in a civil war that has lasted more than two years, suddenly stopping shortly before 3 pm. Google traffic reports continued to show no activity there about four hours after the drop-off.

"We've seen this twice before," said Christine Chen, Google's senior manager for free expression. "This happened in Syria last November and in Egypt during the Arab Spring."

It is virtually impossible to definitely determine the cause of such disruptions unless a party claims responsibility, experts said. In the past, Syria's government and the rebels fighting to topple it have traded blame.

Google's data showed traffic disruptions limited to Syria and spanning the entire country. Shutting an entire nation from the Internet is possible because IP addresses, individual connections established by each device, are geographically specific and the government has control over the country's Internet service providers.

The vast majority of websites within Syria were rendered unreachable as well, other experts said, as the county appeared to shut itself off. As during Arab Spring disruptions, Google said its Speak2Tweet service, which broadcasts voice messages, was up and running in Syria for people with access to a phone.

"Effectively, the shutdown disconnects Syria from Internet communication with the rest of the world. It's unclear whether Internet communication within Syria is still available," wrote Dan Hubbard, chief technology officer at infrastructure services firm OpenDNS.

"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 fiber cuts and power outages."

Hubbard wrote on an OpenDNS blog that a similar Internet blackout in Syria occurred in November and lasted three days. About 80 Internet pathways normally are listed by Syrian providers, but only three were being advertised to machines searching for connections late on Tuesday.

Jim Cowie, chief technology officer at Renesys, a US company that tracks global Internet traffic, said the outage looked similar to the one seen last November.

"The outage took place very quickly, was seen throughout the world, and (with a few small technical exceptions) covers the entire Syrian Internet," Cowie said in an email to Reuters.

"We don't see any effects in neighboring countries, and we don't see anything to suggest that the outage was caused by damage to one or another of the several cables that connect Syria with the outside world," he added.

Neither Syria's ambassador to the United States nor the country's envoy to the United Nations could be reached for immediate comment.

No comment was immediately available from the Pentagon.

The Center for Democracy & Technology in December condemned the previous network shutdown in Syria, calling it an "indefensible violation of human rights" and a "dangerous and desperate interruption of the free flow of information." – Reuters




Tags: US | Internet | Syria | Washington |

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