No Connection in Syria

Portraits of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

James Gordon

Portraits of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Carter Robinson, Editor, Campus Life

On November 28th, the citizens of Syria were caught without Internet connection and mobile communication. This loss of connection has happened before, but only in small areas; this time it was all throughout Syria, causing nothing short of panic for the people.

At 12:26 pm, all connections were cut. No one could use search engines, social media sites, or video sharing sites, while telephone connection was very spotty. Renesys, a U.S. company that tracks Internet use world-wide, said that, “In the global routing table, all 84 of Syria’s IP address blocks have become unreachable.” Other U.S. companies were unable to connect to Syria’s Internet as well. Psiphon, a Canadian company, was also tracking the connection and noted that the number of citizens connected was slowly decreasing before it suddenly took a huge plunge to zero connectivity. The Syrian government has stated that this happened because of “terrorists,” however activist groups stated that these technological blackouts have happened in small areas before military attacks. The fact that Youtube was cut down caused an uproar from activist groups, who used the site to share inside footage of conditions in Syria and other parts of Egypt.

Speculations have revolved around the possibility of President Bashar al-Assad’s ordering the cutting of internet and cellular providers’ connections as a response to rebel troops. However, an unnamed Syrian official countered the theory, stating that the connections were cut due to an accidental severing of several crucial cables.

Syria is no stranger to these “blackouts,” although they had stopped since July and August. In Egypt these outages were very common in certain areas during the uprisings against the former President, Hosni Mubarak. In Libya, connections often went down while Colonel Gaddafi was in charge. Rik Ferguson, the Vice President of security research at Trend Micro said, “It looks like they are using the same approach as Libya did, requests for Syrian addresses are simply timing out- so it’s likely to be ‘blackholing’ or even breaking connections physically by cutting cables or switching things off.” Blackholing is a new tactic which allows Internet use to be simulated without actually working, meaning that all sites and searches lead to a dead end instead of a website.

Citizens and organizations (such as Google) found loopholes around the disconnection. Citizens who were able to use land lines had access to Twitter on a new service called “Speak-to-Tweet,” which will undoubtedly become popular for activists and citizens alike. What the true cause of the disconnection was, no one knows for sure, but Syrians will be a little more prepared if and when  this occurs again.