Syria’s Internet access went dark May 7, leaving monitoring firms and international agencies to debate whether the downtime stemmed from a hardware problem or the government cutting off access.
Renesys and others began tracking the outage at 18:43 UTC May 7. The Syrian News Agency reported that the Internet went dark as a result of a “fault in optical fiber cables” serving the country, according to the BBC.
David Belson, one of the authors of Akamai’s State of the Internet report, told the BBC that four providers (Deutsche Telekom, Telecom Italia Sparkle, Tata, and PCCW Global, according to Renesas) currently serve Syria, making the chances of a single point of failure unlikely.
If a hardware failure isn’t to blame, then the most likely suspect is the administration of Syrian president Bashar Assad, who has reportedly shut down Internet access in the country before. A Jan. 6 outage disrupted Google services for about three and a half hours, the day Assad proposed a “peace plan” that would mitigate the rebellion against his rule while keeping him in power.
Other downtimes have been noted in November 2012 and throughout the summer of 2011. In June 2011, for example, two types of outages occurred: the first, on June 6, blocked access networks such as 3G connections while leaving core government routers intact. A week later, as anti-Assad demonstrations ramped up, Renesys tracked a more substantial blackout—highly reminiscent of the Egyptian government’s strategy that January.
(Companies such as Akamai measure the “Internet” via changes in the BGP routing table, which track the paths packets take to different destinations within the Internet, as well as determining the average time or latency for a packet to arrive at its destination.)
At press time, Akamai reported that Internet access was returning.
Renesys’ James Cowie reasoned in a recent blog posting that the Internet as inherently “anti-fragile,” responding better under stress than when things are operating smoothly. Frustrated by repeated outages, countries such as Iran and Pakistan have invested heavily in alternative forms of routing as insurance against failures taking down the entire network. The implication, of course, is that Syrian ISPs could begin doing the same—if accidents are truly the cause of its outages.