As of this morning, a pair of Internet monitoring companies in the U.S. have reported that the Internet in Syria has been totally shut down. Reminiscent of the Egyptian and Libyan shutdowns early last year, the Syrian web has gone totally dark, with the mobile network also down.
According to Renesys, all of Syria’s IP address blocks have gone offline just after noon in Damascus today. Akamai, another monitor, has also reported that Syria’s web is down, and tweeted this image, picked up by AllThingsD:
The conflict in Syria has lasted for nearly two years now, and it seems that the Syrian government has decided it’s time to take a drastic step in an attempt to cut off communication. While rebel forces are reportedly using satellite phones, they offer much more limited access than cell networks or the web.
One question posed by Max Fisher at the Washington Post is why didn’t Syria shut the Internet down earlier? Egypt and Libya both took the step, which can have crushing effects on a country’s economy and security, during much lower-scale uprisings. He notes that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is much more computer literate, and that the Syrian government has been far more effective in using the web as a weapon against rebels, even go as far to use phishing attacks to break communication security. (How wild is that?) Fisher argues that Gaddafi and Mubarak didn’t have a problem shutting down those new-fangled computer boxes, while al-Assad has been more cautious in taking such a drastic step, which is a very smart point.
Still, why now? Well, earlier this week we saw a turning point in the war: the first video evidence suggesting the rebels now have surface-to-air missiles. First, that means that the rebels may now have an effective counter against the Syrian Air Force, which has long been obliterating Aleppo from the air with little opposition. Considering the rebels have held on for so long without an effective urban ground-to-air war, the new capability could be a major turning point.
The, larger point is rooted in the very fact that the Syrian rebels have kept the war effort up for two years. The Free Syrian Army has seen a host of international supporters during the conflict, and the appearance of portable SAMs — even if they may have been stolen — along with sophisticated communications equipment may have finally prompted al-Assad to flip the switch. And it’s near-definite that the shutdown did come from the Syrian government; shutting down the entire web and mobile network in the country would require a level of centralized control that the rebels likely don’t have. (If you disagree, I’d love to hear it.)
The big question is how long the networks will stay down. The Libya outage was only about seven hours, while Egypt’s lasted a few days. Until we hear reports from the ground—obviously more difficult with communications down—it’ll be unclear what either side will be doing during the blackout, although a Reuters report connects the blackout to fighting near the airport in Damascus. Until then, people are sharing their experiences under the #syriablackout hashtag, which is probably the first place you’ll hear about the Syrian Internet coming back online.
Image: Free Syrian Army officials, via Reuters
Follow Derek Mead on Twitter: @derektmead.