How Egypt turned off the Internet

Sun, Jan 30, 2011


Egypt is in turmoil as protests against the Hosni Mubarak led government continue. Looting is rampant, hundreds have died, numerous rapes have been reported, and there’s no end in sight. In an effort to quell mounting public demonstrations last week, albeit unsucessfully, Egypt turned off the Internet for its citizenry, preventing data from going in and out of the country.

Politics aside, how did Egypt kill the country’s Internet in one fell swoop?

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Renesys Corp CTO Jim Cowie explained that there isn’t a universal kill switch, but “what is most likely is that somebody in the government gives a phone call to a small number of people and says, ‘Turn it off.’ And then one engineer at each service provider logs into the equipment and changes the configuration of how traffic should flow.”

Could a few calls result in a blackout of Internet access here in the US, hypothetically? Not likely says Cowie, as Egypt’s Internet infrastructure is significantly smaller than the one in the United States. “To say the least it would be very implausible,” Cowie explained. “You’d have to make far too many phone calls, and most of those people would ignore you.”


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