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
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.

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs