Alan Curtis Montgomery

Syria, and Pro-Government Hackers, Are Back on the Internet - NYTimes.com (With Further Information And My Commentary At The End)

By:  Alan Curtis Montgomery  •   •  11 years ago  •  2 comments

Syria, and Pro-Government Hackers, Are Back on the Internet - NYTimes.com (With Further Information And My Commentary At The End)

May 8, 2013, 3:40 pm


6D4883F1E7829703C5AA4A89BE3.jpg?width=600 Photo Not Part of Original New York Times Bits Blog Post
Photo by MSN Technology Blog

Syrian Internet and cellphone access resumed Wednesday morning after an Internet failure pulled the company offline Tuesday.

The likely culprit, technologists say, was the Syrian government. But the Syrian government said the failure was because of a technical problem.

Bakr Bakr, the director general of Syrias General Establishment for Communications, told the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, or SANA, that the Internet failure was caused by a malfunction in an optic cable, but security experts said that such an occurrence would be unlikely.

There are four physical cables that connect Syria to the Internet, three run undersea and one runs over land through Turkey. The only way an outsider could pull off such an outage, security experts say, would be too physically cut all four cables simultaneously .

Evidence suggested that the state-run Syrian Telecommunications Establishment, the exclusive provider of Internet access in Syria, simultaneously withdrew the Border Gateway Protocol, or B.G.P., routes into Syria at roughly 7:45 p.m. E.D.T. on Tuesday, ensuring that any information trying to reach Syria could not find its way, according to Renesys, OpenDNS and Arbor Networks.

The same technique was used to shut down the Internet and mobile phone service last November. Syrian government officials said terrorists, not the government, were responsible for that failure, but evidence also pointed to government involvement.

The way the routes were withdrawn was systematic and looked as if individual providers were cut off one after another, said Matthew Prince, the founder of Cloudflare, a San Francisco start-up that distributes large volumes of traffic across the Internet.

Cloudflare discovered Wednesday morning that one small pocket of the Syrian Internet maintained access to the Internet through the failure, though it was not immediately clear who was using it. That, Mr. Prince said, further contradicted claims that a technical malfunction was to blame.

That again is a strong indication that this was an explicit effort to turn off most (although not all) of the countrys Internet connectivity, Mr. Prince said in an e-mail. Had it been a true cable cut across all four of the countrys connections than this selective space wouldnt have remained online.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an antigovernment activist group, said it believed the reason for the blackout was military operations being carried out by the regime forces in some areas.

The failure had the least effect on rebel-controlled territories, where the Syrian opposition has successfully built an alternate system of Internet and cellphone connectivity using two-way satellite devices.

But the failure did temporarily silence the usually boisterous Syrian Electronic Army, the collective of pro-government Syrian hackers who have been breaking into the Twitter accounts of an array of news outlets and nonprofits, including E! Online,The Onion, Human Rights Watch and the Associated Press in recent weeks.

On Wednesday morning, one hacker affiliated with Syrian Electronic Army , who identified himself only by his hacker handle,Th3 Pr0, said he did not believe the government was to blame for the failure and that the electronic armys campaign of targeting media outlets would continue.

original article http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/08/syria-and-its-hacker-activists-are-back-on-the-internet/?hp

After thoroughly researching this problem from various online sources here is what I determined. The internet in Syria including much phone and cell service was off in Syria for at least 20 straight hours and as much as 2 days in some locations. At the same time this was happening government forces were carrying out major military operations against the rebels and the Syrian population. While all this was occurring a small portion of the Syrian internet remained online and while I am speculating here based on what my findings have been this was communication channels used by the Syrian government . The official SANA (Syrain Arab News Agency Syrian State Television) position is a major malfunction in a critical optical cable caused the outage. However security experts from within Syria and outside have reported such would not have been sufficient to bring down the internet in the entire country. They suggest four main optical lines would have had to be cut simultaneously for that to happen which would have been very unlikely.

The reason such an outage was so easy for the government to pull off in Syria is there is only one official Internet Service Provider in Syria and it is state owned , it is known as Syrian Telecommunications Establishment. The government removed the protocol that allows communication with the internet outside of Syria known as the Border Gateway Protocol . Think of this protocol as working at the Internet Service Provider level that allows routing to take place between ISPs if this protocol is not allowed to function the ISPs will not function so homes and business will no longer have access to the internet. Being it was at the ISP level even normal methods to get around censorship and blocking like Tor would not function as they require a working internet connection to begin with . Such technologies can work on bypassing restrictions they can not overcome outages that happen at the ISP and Internet Backbone level. The only way to communicate in such an outage of an ISP that happened in Syria is you must have access to another working ISP or satellite communications capable of connecting to another working ISP. Some of the rebels were technically sophisticated enough in areas they controlled they were able to make use of two way satellite devices to establish an alternate source of internet and cellphone service. This is not surprising knowing how sophisticated some of the opposition in Syria is. This sophistication and determination is what has allowed them to maintain the resistance against this oppressive regime for over two years. The Syrian government was trying to force the rebels to only communicate through radio channels which could have been much easier to tap into by the Syrian government, but the rebels once again proved their technical sophistication over the the Syrian government. It goes to show you with enough determination and knowledge people anywhere in the world can overcome great odds and even sophisticated persistent government oppression. It is a true example of how the people no matter how oppressive the government if they educate themselves, are determined, and act collectively are always more powerful then their governments.

The only good news besides the rebels showing they have the capability to bypass government attempts to hit the kill switch on the internet and cellular communications is the notorious collective pro-Assad hacker group known as Syrian Electronic Army was in the outage taken offline as well and not allowed to carry out planned internet attacks, surveillance operations, and harassment of people in the Free Syria movement and allies . Thus showing such an outage works both ways and hurts the government as well. This group shows while there is so much pop culture admiration for collective hacker groups like Anonymous there is a a dark side to them as well and sometimes what they see as for the common good is not so good after all. The very fact such groups are non-hierarchical, have no official rules and limits of what is crossing a line, and have no control over their membership in this chaotic and anarchistic structure have proven to make such group unpredictable. They have proven they can take the role of vigilante folk heroes or vigilante outlaws and mobs. We would be wise in my opinion to always question any group motivated by vigilantism and subverting legal and ethical means of fighting for a cause. This is for another article however. As far as the Syrian Electronic Army hacktivist group in specifically I dont think any outside of Assad supporters will see them anything less then organized cyber vigilante outlaws and mobs. They have brought many anti-Assad media outlets and outspoken activist down and they say they are determined to continue their cyber warfare. Groups like Anonymous have promised and showed ability to fight back, however they have proven harder to combat then many anticipated. I fear though in this new age of cyber warfare and cyber vigilantism will cause governments around the world including our own to only become that much more oppressive and that much more political divisions to form in our societies. We are entering a brave new world but rather it is one of increased freedom and stability or increased oppression and instability is yet to be seen.


P.S. The U.S. State Department according to reports has confirmed the outage that took place in Syria and is monitoring the situation and further looking into the incident. Patrick Ventrell, the deputy State Department spokesman, said in Washington, We condemn any effort by any group to restrict or eliminate the Syrian peoples access to information and communications of any kinds. These shutdowns are hard to attribute to one side or the other, and technical groups are analyzing them. But the regime has a history of restricting the Internet in a range of ways to prevent the Syrian people from accessing and sharing information.


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Alan Curtis Montgomery
Freshman Silent
link   author  Alan Curtis Montgomery    11 years ago

Governments can not silence free speech and the people no matter how hard they try! Assad thought he could he found out differently. Perhaps he has learned cutting off the free flow of information goes both directions. Stay Tuned to the story more information will be available soon.

Professor Expert
link   Krishna    11 years ago

Governments can not silence free speech and the people no matter how hard they try!

Actually, I think that most (all?) North Koreans might disagree with that statement.... Frown.gif