News

Syria back online after 19-hour blackout

Warwick Ashford

Syria is back online after a 19-hour internet blackout that effectively disconnected the country from internet communication with the rest of the world.

Monitoring companies reported that internet access to Syria appeared to have been cut off and Google said traffic to its sites and services had dropped off dramatically, although internal communications appeared unaffected.

Reports of the internet blackout sparked speculation of an attempt by the Syrian government to disrupt the online activities of opponents.

Activists seeking to overthrow president Bashar al-Assad routinely upload videos to YouTube showing atrocities allegedly carried out on behalf of the government.

They also use internet telephony services such as Skype to report attacks by government attacks on rebel positions and civilians.

Ahead of restoration of internet links with the rest of the world, Syrian state-run media reported that a fault in optical fibre cables was to blame for the blackout, but experts have dismissed the explanation.

David Belson, from internet content delivery network organisation Akamai, told the BBC that Syria's international internet connectivity is carried through at least four providers, making it unlikely that the failure of a single optical cable could cause a complete internet outage for the country.

Monitoring companies reported a similar blackout last November. While the Syrian government blamed "terrorists" for that incident, activists accused the government of trying to silence rebel communications.

And as the violence in the region has escalated, digital rights campaign group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) says it has documented campaigns of targeted malware attacks against Syrian activists.

The Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak cut the country's internet connection with the rest of the world in January 2011 as protests grew prior to the government’s ousting.

According to the EFF, the internet is a vital resource for activists: "We're deeply concerned that this blackout is a deliberate attempt to silence Syria's online communications and further draw a curtain over grave events currently unfolding on the ground in Syria," the group said.

The EFF said that, while the internet is heavily censored, monitored and compromised, it has served as an important means of connecting Syria to the outside world.


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