Paint it black—How Syria methodically erased itself from ‘Net
Just after noon Damascus time on Thursday, the government-owned Syrian Telecommunications Establishment essentially deleted the whole country from the Internet’s routing tables, blocking all inbound and outbound network traffic. Rather than the result of terrorist attacks, as the government claimed on state television, the blackout was a well-rehearsed and deliberate act intended to deny connection to Syria’s citizens and the opposition forces currently trying to topple the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad.
Five Syrian networks, identified by their IP address prefixes, were reachable over the network connections of Indian telecom provider Tata Communications until late Thursday. The Syrian government’s previous network monitoring company, BGPMon, reported that the country was 100 percent offline by 1:45 AM Damascus time Friday morning, until 4:30 PM on December 1 when connections were restored. There were also reports of widespread landline and cellular phone service outages.
That didn’t mean that there was no way for Syrian citizens to connect to the outside world. And the US State Department provided communications equipment to “dozens” of local councils in areas of Syria no longer under government control in order to bypass Syria’s government-controlled networks.
But the Internet blackout in Syria was much more complete than the similar government-directed blocking of communications by former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s regime in January. That’s probably because the Assad regime has been honing its network warfare skills for some time and preparing a plan for a complete network shutdown—staging two dress-rehearsals just in the last week.