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Syrian Internet Is Off The Air (renesys.com)
301 points by charliesome 1843 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments

Maybe time to name and shame? In the following news, the name of the country has been replaced with Syria. Can you guess the country? Bonus points if you know the year.

[1] "For hundreds of thousands of Syrians, getting to work, school or the market has been virtually impossible since Syria’s latest anti-terror campaign began. Now, they won’t be able to get online, either." "The Syrian army stormed the office building where six employees were believed to be staying in order to maintain Internet service during this difficult time" "Explosions were heard and the fate of the six employees is unknown."

[2] "Syria cuts off internet access. Most of the major internet service providers in Syria are offline following week-long protests. Syria appears to have cut off almost all access to the internet from inside and outside the country from late on Thursday night" "Every Syrian provider, every business, bank, internet cafe, website, school, embassy and government office that relied on the big four Syrians ISPs for their internet connectivity is now cut off from the rest of the world."

[3] "What Internet? Syria region cut off 6 months." "20 million people without links to the outside world since the government blocked virtually online access, text messages and international phone calls after ethnic riots in July. It's the largest and longest such blackout in the world, observers say." "Residents are without Internet links unless they flee to farflung places... One customer had traveled 750 miles just to get online." "Region now has no e-mail. No blogs. No instant messaging. The government this month promised Internet access would resume "gradually," but it also said the same thing in July and not much has changed. So far, only four restricted Web sites, half of them state-run media, have returned."

Answers (link shortened so no cheating!) [1] http://goo.gl/IpcrA [2] http://goo.gl/WewSI [3] http://goo.gl/BaFli

Is there a point to this? Since the situation is vastly different in all the three places you mention, isn't this just empty relativism?

I think this is an useful exercise. I wasn't actually aware of [1] and [3] until I decided to find examples to post.

So, what did you learn from doing that exercise? Did your perception of that issue improve or just get diluted?

A couple of things come to mind.

- It's easy to condemn a country for cutting off the internet, but can it be justified under certain situations?

- The UN Human Rights Council deemed that basic internet access is a human right, but is it a fundamental human right which should never be taken away?

- What if we're isolated from the outside world but can still access local email, banking, websites, etc. to carry on our daily lives. Does that count as being cut off from the internet and having a human right violated?

- The sheer scale of shutdown is surprising - not just a few days, but for months on end. How long could we last without access to the internet and how far would we travel to get it?

Actually I don't disagree with your general sentiment - if I understand it correctly - that (a) cutting off the Internet is relatively minor compared to war's true atrocities and (b) the UNHRC is basically an impressive-looking name to a dysfunctional and morally bankrupt organization (eg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Human_Rights_Cou...)

But my main point is that HN discussions are interesting when they're not on the judgmental side ("How bad is Syria compared to X?") but on the perceptive one ("What are the implications on the ground of cutting the net? How easy/hard is for Syrians to find other ways to connect?" etc)

> - The UN Human Rights Council deemed that basic internet access is a human right, but is it a fundamental human right which should never be taken away?

I think it can be qualified. The notion that free speech, which I think we can mostly agree is an equal if not more fundamental human right, can be qualified with things like "fighting words" or "clear and present danger" suggests that other rights can similarly have exceptions.

I don't know what those are, and I have a hard time accepting that our historical examples are a good indicator, so.

You do retain the ability of saying "Fighting words" or words that create a "clear and present danger" with the threat of punishment if used improperly. The critical principle of free speech is that it is free from prior restraint. You cant (or shouldnt) stop someone from saying something even if it is something they can be punished for.

Cutting off access to the internet is like wholesale confiscation of printing presses without regard to their actual use.

Not that I'm passing judgement either way, but your first one is a little inaccurate. It should be:

"For hundreds of thousands of [one set of people], getting to work, school or the market has been virtually impossible since [a different set of people's] latest anti-terror campaign began."

Interesting and important though those cases are, I can't help feeling that you're diminishing the consideration of today's news by surfing on it a bit for other examples.

You might want to mention that you modified the secondary locations in those snippets as well. Threw my guesses off, because I was trying to be clever. ;)

Ha, good point. For [3] I've updated the location name to be 'Region'.

First one took place during the Second Intifada.


Your point being?

is this a realtime graph though ? many friends tried to call/connect with people from Syria but they failed.

The data is fairly close to realtime, with caveats. The time series chart widget is a little dodgy, though, so it's sometimes difficult to see things on the margin. We're working on putting something better in place.

On the right hand scrolling menu it says data for today is still being finalized and should be treated with cation. This may explain why the drop has not shown up.

More interestingly is that the next few event are google services being completely incessible in Syria on a few different occasions.

Cool tool thanks for sharing.

Thanks for that link.

I have never seen this. Thanks as well.

The article says they lost the connection, and also that it was restored a few hours later as far as I can see. I might be wrong but the title makes this out to be something they did on purpose, permanently. Which does not seem the case.

Pay attention to the dates.

There was a temporary outage on Nov. 27, which was restored after two hours. We don't yet know what's happening today.

No, it says those were part of 'a sequence of recent events'. This latest outage 'continues' that.

Any idea what the cause is yet?

Appears to be fighting between the rebels and govt troops on the main road near the airport in Damascus


You might be right, sorry. Tiny mobile screen and a stupid client did not let me reply until now. My screen has a decent amount of cracks so it's a bit hard to read from. :)

Did anyone else note the similarity with Vernor Vinge's excellent fiction 'A Fire Upon the Deep' and that headline? I guess it is going to be one of the metrics of civil war state if the country's Internet connectivity begins to fluctuate.

Haha, yes, I've read that and noticed.

Wonder if we'll ever have internet connectivity checked like we used to have nuclear weapon inspections.

Actually came here to the comments to say exactly this. Will be interesting to see if the Syrian government has people pretend to be free citizens go online and post to say "hey don't worry about what you read in the newspapers. Everything is great here."

I wish that graph was extending over more than a day. At first glance I thought "Oh, something sure was making the people use the internet before it was shut down" but then I realised it was just a normal work day curve starting in the night.

During the Arab Spring, several countries blocked the entire Internet.

As the example of Egypt illustrates, this was usually a bad mood for the regime.

I am reasonably sure you meant "bad move", and yet I doubt.

For anyone else confused, I think btilly meant move not mood.

I'm sure that the regime was in a bad mood when they were ousted...

The regime was in a bad mood and made a bad move.

If history serves as an example, the Syrian government is desperate and on the verge of collapse.

We can all hope so.

This would be a fun time to have VSAT IP network bandwidth available over Syria -- there's probably a lot of space capacity since the US pulled out of Iraq (the US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were basically the best thing to happen to the satellite networking industry ever).

You can pretty easily get a $1k earth station which can fit in the back of your car and set up in 30 minutes by someone with an 8th grade education and ~4h of training.

How easily can it be tracked with standard bunny-hunting? I imagine the government would locate this pretty quickly and just mortar the neighborhood to remove it.

Depends on the adversary.

1) It's a really tight beam. It's gotta to up to geostationary orbit on a 0.5-2W transmitter. Commercial stuff isn't always spread spectrum, though, so it would be easier to go after than some of the better military satcom equipment. OTOH, you can get spread spectrum commercial systems, so if you were specifically setting up the Free Syrian Satcom Network, you'd go for that.

The attacks are basically to hear about it/know about it from human intelligence, then go after that. Or, to drive around and look for the satellite dishes with lots of electronics (relative to TVRO dishes) on the end, and hit those places.

You can go after intermediate frequencies (some of the modems are quite noisy; it's generally L-band on the cable up to the dish), from the ground, by driving around, but that's a low power signal, too.

The normal way is to have the cooperation of the satellite operator, with a spectrum analyzer hooked up at the hub or somewhere (with an IP interface) and then figure out location with tricks from there. (and, you basically "for free" get a pretty thin circle on the earth based on just timing from the satellite; it's unlikely such a circle covers that many rebel cities, so you just concentrate the search there). It's relatively difficult to find a misbehaving (or correctly behaving and unwanted) satellite transmitter WITHOUT the cooperation of the satellite or network operator. I'm fairly confident most of the satellite operators (Gulf Arab states, Europeans, some Asians, and the US) wouldn't cooperate with Assad now. Maybe the Russians would, but just don't use a Russian satellite for this, and pick an orbital position which doesn't have a nearby Russian commercial satellite (I don't think a 1.5 degree away satellite is that helpful for DFing a transmitter on another satellite, but conceivably it would be; if you picked the right position you could force the Russians to use aircraft or military satellites if they wanted to help Syria, which is less deniable)

The US, UK, RU, JP, etc. have SIGINT/ELINT aircraft equivalent to RIVET JOINT (and probably UAVs, now) to do this kind of thing from overhead, but I'm pretty confident Syria doesn't anymore. If they did, they would be extremely high value targets to hit, although likely operated/staffed by the vendor nation (i.e. Russia) personnel, so hitting them might be politically undesirable.

I am pretty sure the sigint/elint capabilities of Syria are focused on FRS, other HT type systems, military radio (i.e. old Soviet anti-US DFing gear), and IP systems (which is really easy when they own the network, although probably harder since I doubt Narus/Boeing ever sold to them, at least directly -- EFF says Blue Coat is the main vendor found, for which someone should be tarred and feathered at the very least). Maybe some over-the-air cellphone attack systems, but mostly they would just rely on the cooperation of the network operator (i.e. themselves), although maybe they want to deal with people using Turkish, Israeli, Jordanian, or Iraqi cell systems in border regions. Basically the kind of gear you can buy for $50-100k. Not the kind of equipment which comes with a free aircraft. (I'm not as familiar with the equipment non-US countries can easily buy for this kind of thing as I should be -- there's stuff like the Shoghi, but it basically falls into the big emitter locators (Designed for finding radars and stuff like that) vs. more intelligence/law enforcement (99% focused on satcom and on L-band portable sat phones).)

2) Even if they could locate your transmitter, you can easily remote the satellite from everything else. I would love to have a $1k satellite system ~500m away which somehow starts to attract enemy aircraft and/or ground assault (either direct or bringing in the light artillery they have left). I'd prepare the likely routes of attack and win all day. The Assad regime and the enemy are on a lot more equal footing now than they were even ~2mo ago, so being able to kill some helicopters at minimal risk to your own forces would be great. You wouldn't even need MANPADs to do it; put a 23mm in the approach path.

What are the best blogs/pages to watch for internet network news like this?

Try restarting the router

Try restarting the government

maybe they bought samsung printers and this is their fix

How relatively easy is this to do for governments? Are there systems in place in other countries which makes this extremely complex/impossible to do?

Check out the CloudFare article for a clearer description http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4850035

The general principle is that all of Syria's traffic travels through 4 physical cables. Given this, it is relatively simple to disable all of the edge routers, so their is no path into or out of the country. Other countries may not be able to do this nearly as easily, because of having more redundancy, with some edges safe from the government.

Shape of things to come :(

Here comes Anonymous lol

A communications disruption can mean only one thing -- invasion.

Skrillex can't even drop it this hard

Anonymous, now's the time for you guys to attack Syrian government properties online.

You mean the ones not connected to the internet anymore?

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