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Anatomy of an Internet blackout

How Egypt’s shutdown unfolded in front of North American Internet operators

By , Network World
January 28, 2011 02:29 PM ET

Page 2 of 2

"I don't think it takes a leap of imagination to understand what has happened here," the operator states in the e-mail reflector. "Traffic drops to a handful of megabits following the withdrawal of most Egyptian ISP BGP routes."

Another noted that the U.S. Embassy Web site in Cairo is also unreachable, as well as the main Egyptian government portal.

"I think the earlier references to the BGPmon blog article is sufficient to illustrate a coordinated effort in 'blacking out' connectivity," the operator states.

As of this posting, there is no improvement in the Internet connectivity situation in Egypt -- in fact it may be worse, says Andree Toonk, the author of the BGPmon blog.

"It seems that even more networks in Egypt have fallen off the Net," Toonk says. "Before all this there were 2,903 network routed to Egypt. Shortly after the government ordered the shutdown, there were still 327 network reachable (88% drop). Right now there are only 239 networks reachable."

Toonk says the Noor network is still fully operational while others in Egypt have been significantly curtailed.

"ETISALAT-MISR, one the main providers, normally routes 676 networks. Today there are only 50 left," Toonk says. "So you start the wonder if there's anything special about these 50 networks ... Could be military, or something ..."

It's becoming more and more apparent that Egypt can selectively "shut off" Internet communications within its borders during time of political upheaval -- or whenever the government deems it necessary.

A bill was introduced in Congress two years ago proposing the same thing here in the event of a cyberattack on the U.S. 

Operators are doubtful that such a bill could pass into law, and if it did, could be used to shut down Internet communications in the U.S. during times of political protest.

"For better or worse, companies will comply with lawful requests," says Jared Mauch, senior IP engineer at NTT America. "In the event of U.S. civil unrest, I think it would be much harder than in other regimes to exert this type of control, and would cause a much broader global impact to economic activity. The same would happen with any pan-European 'blackout.'

"For the economic reasons alone, I rate the chances of 'kill-switch' a zero," Mauch says. "It makes for great reporting about power, but the practicality is zero."

Read more about lans & wans in Network World's LANs & WANs section.

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