Egypt Unplugged

Death of the Web in Egypt: Not a Proud Moment

Last Thursday and Friday were tumultuous days for the world. Egypt, aflame with riots, its people demanding a change of leadership and reform, went black on the web.  The government shut down the Internet — ceasing Tweets, emails, YouTube postings and other sources of information to the outside world.

The country’s Internet communication simply ceased. Amazing and scary.

How did they do this? A new article on IT World says the country “raised the drawbridge” in only a few minutes, as major Egyptian networks withdrew their routing announcements to the rest of the world.  Apparently, it only required simple changes to the country’s routers.

Routers communicate with each other using border gateway protocol (BGP) to establish routes for digital traffic.

When Egyptian networks began refusing to inform other networks how to reach their IP addresses, the ISPs  cut off all communication with the Web. That made it impossible for the outside world to access Egyptian web services, but the country’s web surfers and online businesses were left without access to sites outside the web’s ethereal internal borders, too.

The Egyptian government pulled the switch, says the article, citing services like Vodafone acknowledging that it complied with a government order to cut off mobile services.

Of course, there are other ways to travel the pathways of the Web, for example, if there’s a disconnection of a nine-hop path, the traffic switches to a path using, for example, 11 hops. But the Egyptian government’s move, equivalent to what some network experts call the “Armageddon approach,”  after its drastic nature, made that impossible, too.

It’s stunning to me how a government can — in a few minutes time — simply stop the free flow of ideas and information and commerce on the web.  Egypt’s action is truly history — of the worst kind — in action. Even China, which censors Internet access and has been accused of monitoring foreign-based dissidents’ emails on Google, hasn’t gone that far.

Let’s hope and pray this is the last time this ever happens.