Internet shut off switch?
Reports are saying cell phones and Internet connections are off in egypt at the moment. Can a country really shut off its Internet connection?
China, who has placed restrictions on its Internet infrastructure from day 1 (meaning, the whole infrastructure for connecting to the Internet was built with government control in mind) and that develops a lot of its own networking equipment, is unable to really block users. When I’m in China, twitter and facebook are blocked in the hotel and in the office, but not on the blackberry. Most anonymizers work, and some twitter-over-instant messenger bots work as well. Most of the time, I can find the new list of working anonymizers on google, while I’m there – so there’s no special preparation involved. On my last visit I was introduced to a free VPN service that enables unrestricted access to facebook, twitter and other blocked sites, that seems to be quite popular in the country.
Egypt is not as big and certainly not as advanced as China, but is fairly big. As anyone who worked for a large company knows – it’s difficult if not impossible to track all incoming and outgoing connections. We know the DNS servers are refusing to resolve .eg domains – but what if we go into the inner-works. Are some of the IP’s inside Egypt reachable?
One glaring example is the Egyptian stock exchange. Its IP rotates, but at least some connections point to 126.96.36.199, which belongs to the ISP “the Noor group”, in Cairo. Other times it points to 188.8.131.52 that belongs to “Misr Information Services and Trading” in down-town Cairo. Both are clearly reachable and pingable; is every router on the way configured to route communication only to those IPs? Are there other routers, IP’s or servers that are still open for communication? I would imagine that some emergency lines run on IP-based infrastructure that must be kept on; some devices – military ones perhaps – might rely on IP infrastructure. Dial-ups might still exist. Speaking of which: can one dial from Egypt into a modem in Germany?
Also, one has to wonder about internal communication. Blocking the country’s gateways is one thing; but blocking all internal communication is extremely hard to do. If internal communication is available, is there a way to piggyback into those few holes in the dam to get external communication? Taking the egyptse.com example: if the perimeter routers only allow communication to/from the Noor network, can I route my connection through them?
We all know the Internet was designed to be resilient; and forty years after its initial deployment, it’s proving to be very hard to kill, even by those who believe they have their hand on the cut-off switch.