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Syria Plunges Into Total Info Darkness

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Syria, Digital Activism, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Protest, War & Conflict

This post is part of our special coverage Syria Protests 2011/12 [1].

On Thursday, the US-based internet connectivity monitoring firm, Renesys, reported [2] that internet was cut off in Syria. Starting at 10.26am GMT on Thursday, the company reported that all of Syria's 84 IP address blocks were inaccessible, “effectively removing the country from the Internet.”

Renesys also posted the following graph which seems to show a nationwide total internet shutdown:

Image courtesy of Renesys

Renesys’ observation was later corroborated by Akamai [3], a major internet monitoring company, which posted a similar graph [4] indicating a complete collapse of internet connectivity on Thursday morning.

Google Transparency Report, a tool that provides information about traffic to Google services from around the world, indicates [5] a collapse in the use of all of its services in Syria, starting at 13:36 GMT on Thursday.

Scattered reports on Twitter from activists and Syrian expats unable to reach friends and loved ones inside the country also suggested a major disruption of mobile phone and landline networks.

Leila Nachawati Rego, a Syrian-Spanish expat, tweets [6]:

Trying to call my family in Damascus for hours now. Internet and all communications shut down. Help us trend #InternetCutinSyria [7].

Reuters [8]reported that on Thursday activists were resorting to satellite phones to make contact with the outside world.

Who pulled the plug?

Many seem to believe that the outage is a deliberate effort on the part of the Syrian government to cut the country off the internet.

Lama Bashor tweets [9] :

The #InternetCutInSyria could mean one of 2 things: Either a bad sign of things to come or a regime that has completely run out of moves.

The Syrian Government has resorted [10] to internet blackout tactics in the past. Last September, the internet was cut off focal fighting areas like Aleppo for 10 days as regime forces intensified their attacks against rebel forces in the city. This is, however, the first time the entire country is plunged into a near total information darkness.

“Terrorists,” not the state, were responsible for the countrywide Internet outage on Thursday, Syria's minister of information is said to have told [11] al-Ikhbariya, a Syrian state-owned TV station. A claim swiftly rejected by experts. “In order for a whole-country outage, all […] cables would have had to been cut simultaneously. That is unlikely to have happened,” comments [12] CloudFlare, a website specialized in internet security and performance.

Any cracks in the wall?

As during the Egyptian revolution in early 2011, when the deposed regime decided to shut down the entire internet [13] in an effort to take the steam out of the growing popular uprising, online activists rushed to provide alternate ways to connect to the global network. Telecomix [14], a hacktivist group, offers [15] dialup numbers and access codes as tweeted [16] by Anonymous earlier on Thursday:

Dial up access #Syria: +46850009990 +492317299993 +4953160941030 user:telecomix pw:telecomix OR +33172890150 login:toto pw:toto

Many international flights in and out of Syria were reportedly cancelled as fighting erupted [17] near the Damascus airport area fueling speculations [18] that the regime may be preparing for a major offensive against rebel forces.

Later on Thursday afternoon Syrian state TV announced [19] the Damascus airport road was “secured” following major fighting.

For recent updates, please follow our coverage page of the Syrian revolution [1], and #internetcutinsyria [20] and #syriablackout [21] on Twitter with comments related to today’s internet blackout.

This post is part of our special coverage Syria Protests 2011/12 [1].