News / Middle East

    Government Cuts Internet Access Across Syria

    This image taken from video obtained from the Ugarit News shows smoke after a building was struck in a warplane attack in Homs, Syria, November 28, 2012.
    This image taken from video obtained from the Ugarit News shows smoke after a building was struck in a warplane attack in Homs, Syria, November 28, 2012.
    The Syrian government imposed a wholescale Internet blackout Thursday along with severing phone service, leaving Syrians largely cut off from contact with the outside world.

    The Internet outage was confirmed by two U.S.-based companies that monitor online connectivity and is unprecedented in the 20-month-long uprising against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

    Authorities often cut phone lines and Internet access in areas where government forces are conducting major military operations.

    Internet experts tracked the outage to government-controlled tracer routes. But a pro-government television station quoted Syria's minister of information as saying "terrorists" - the government's term for the opposition - were responsible.

    World notices

    Akamai Traffic to Syria, November 29, 2012 CLICK TO EXPANDAkamai Traffic to Syria, November 29, 2012 CLICK TO EXPAND
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    Akamai Traffic to Syria, November 29, 2012 CLICK TO EXPAND
    Akamai Traffic to Syria, November 29, 2012 CLICK TO EXPAND
    Social media websites started buzzing Thursday morning as most of Syria appeared to be offline.

    Jim Cowie, the chief technology officer and co-founder at U.S.-based Renesys, a firm that monitors Internet connectivity, said the blackout is extensive.   

    "It's a somewhat unambiguous situation," Cowie said. "The Internet has simply turned off."

    Cowie told VOA that the data show a clear and sudden drop-off.

    "Almost everything that is owned by Syria - almost all of the IP addresses that they have registered to them - you can't get to," he said. "This morning they went off the air.  They were literally removed from the global table and can't be reached."

    Other Internet monitoring sites, including U.S.-based Akamai, confirm the findings.

    U.S. outrage

    In Washington, State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland condemned what she called a desperate move by a desperate regime.

    "The regime does appear to be resorting to cutting off all kinds of communications - cellular networks, land lines as well as Internet service across the country, notably in Damascus and the suburbs as well as in Hama, Homs and Tartus," she said.

    Nuland said that despite the blackout, opposition groups should be able to communicate with the outside world thanks to U.S.-provided communication kits that allow contact through outside proxys.

    U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said in a Washington appearance that the Internet blackout is not entirely surprising. He said Syria's government has long been using Iranian expertise to monitor the web to "track opposition activists, to arrest and kill them."

    Ford said he fears the shutdown is an attempt by the Syrian government to further its brutal crackdown of dissent and keep the world from finding out.

    "In 1982, Bashar al-Assad's father Hafez shut down all communications and the world never got a clear picture of what happened in [a massacre in] Hama,"  Ford said. "We do not want a repeat of that.  A lot of the pictures that you see on the nightly news are from communications equipment that we supply to very brave and to very dedicated opposition activists inside Syria."

    Internet expert Cowie said such a widespread shutdown is very unusual, although not too hard to engineer given Syria's infrastructure.

    "Syria has very few Internet service providers," he said. "Almost all of Syria's telecommunications are handled by the Syrian telecommunications establishment.  There's probably a handful of buildings in the entire country, maybe as few as one or two, where telecommunications really passes through in a critical way.

    "And so by shutting off power or by turning off service at those points, it's actually fairly easy to turn a country like Syria off," Cowie said.

    The last time the world has seen something close to this was last year, Cowie said, when the Egyptian government shut down the Internet in an attempt to dampen enthusiasm for Egypt's uprising.

    Jeff Seldin

    Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Anonymous
    November 29, 2012 4:58 PM
    This won't stop a youtube video from eventually being posted of Assads capture. This shows he is so desperate and is losing. It's time the Syrians storm Assads palace and end this war and ruthless killing by Assad.

    Assad can't stop the world from finding out.... Assad claims anyone that opposes his rule is a Terrorist. Of the 40,000 (likely double) of Syrians killed in this conflict 90-95% are not terrorists, they are regular everyday civillians. Assad is a cold blooded killer, you can't kill that many people and expect to "Get off". Justice will be served to Assad appropriately. If we have to wait for his capture video on youtube, so be it.
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    December 01, 2012 9:22 AM
    Ruthless killing is carried out by the "rebels" as well.

    by: qui kar from: usa, florida
    November 29, 2012 4:40 PM
    The internet blackout is from USA, britain, israeli interests, not Syria. The world isn't stupid. Syria wants everything known. Western powers want everything hidden. Western powers need CIA,MI6, and mossad to go in and do their magic without the western people watching. This article looks to be western propaganda.
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    December 01, 2012 9:25 AM
    I agree, this looks like a prelude to some dirty deeds by the "friends of Syria".
    In Response

    by: Mark from: Pasadena
    November 29, 2012 8:41 PM
    Qui Kar,

    Always blame someone else and never take responsibility for your peoples actions. As if secret Israeli hackers cause Assad to slaughter, torture, and rape people. What drivel.
    In Response

    by: Mathias from: U.S.A.
    November 29, 2012 8:29 PM
    qui kar ,you freaking delusional. Why don't you go read more of your RT Today and Sana because you're obviously brainwashed by their propaganda

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