- Taking down an entire country’s internet service is easier than you think. It happens hundreds of times each year.
- Many shutdowns occur at the behest of dictators in corrupt developing countries.
- But the largest takedowns have been in the US (by hackers) and in India (by the police).
- Here’s a list of all the most recent occasions on which the internet has been removed on a national or regional basis.
In May this year, Russia passed a law to create its own parallel mirror version of the web that would allow the country to cut its web connections with the rest of the world but stay online internally. The measure is officially intended to safeguard Russia’s ability to keep its internet running in the event of an attack. But it is widely regarded as a tool through which the Russian government will be able to take down part, or all, of the internet as traffic is funneled through points that the Russian government controls.
It turns out that ending internet service — web, email, social media, mobile phone data, apps — for an entire country is easier than you’d think. It happens frequently. And not just in corrupt dictatorships like Russia.
Hackers in the US once managed to take America’s entire Eastern Seaboard offline for several hours.
Last year, there were 196 large-scale internet shutdowns in 25 countries, according to Access Now. India was the worst offender. It shut down the internet 134 times.
Here are all the recent occasions where someone has taken an entire country offline (or a major section of one), and why it happened.
United States: The 2016 Mirai attack was the largest internet outage in history.
On the morning of Friday, October 21, 2016, America woke up to find that the internet wasn’t available for much of the Eastern Seaboard. Dyn, a company that provides Domain Name System (DNS) services — the web’s directory of addresses, basically — to much of the internet had been taken down by a massive Distributed Denial of Service attack from the Mirai botnet.
Mirai was originally created by three men, Paras Jha, Josiah White, and Dalton Norman, who ran a company that sold defence mechanisms to DDoS attacks. In order to drum up business, they created Mirai to launch a DDoS attack on a French web hosting firm, OVH. They were hoping that companies who hosted servers for the millions of people who play the online game Minecraft would pay them to make sure their servers never fell victim to a DDoS.
Their experiment was too successful. Afraid of the monster they created, the trio published the Mirai code online in hopes of disguising their role in creating it. The code was then used by other hackers to target Dyn.
It was the first serious indicator that a hostile third party has the ability to send the world’s foremost military power back to the pre-1990s era of telecommunications.
Ethiopia: 97% without internet service following a failed coup.
The Republic of Ingushetia, Russia: two-week web shutdown stymies protests in border dispute with Chechnya.
In October 2018, in the runup to a series of demonstrations against a new deal on Ingushetia’s border with Chechnya, the Russian government took the internet offline for two weeks, until the protests died down. Three major Russian mobile services providers went dark. The main effect was to halt activists from using Whatsapp to organise their protests, according to the Financial Times.
Mauritania: “in the midst of a near-total internet blackout”.
Sudan: a “blockade on information in and out of Sudan.”
Venezuela: President Nicolás Maduro blacks out the internet when his main opponent speaks.
Zimbabwe: After 8 people were killed in protests over rising fuel prices in January, President Emmerson Mnangagwa shut down the internet.
Liberia: British hacker disables internet in attempt to help rival company.
Democratic Republic of Congo: Internet goes down one day after a national election.
President Joseph Kabila stepped down after 17 years in office and his government held an election to replace him in December 2018. But the day after the vote, the internet went offline in the major DRC cities of Kinshasa, Goma, and Lubumbashi. Opposition party candidates claimed the takedown happened to prevent the media from broadcasting their victory.
Kazakhstan: Daily blackouts whenever one man speaks
“Since March of 2018, authorities in Kazakhstan have throttled the internet almost daily for about an hour, whenever Mukhtar Ablyazov, the leader of the opposition group Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, is streaming on Facebook Live,” according to Access Now. “Once Mr. Ablyazov goes online, users report being unable to view or upload pictures/videos on Facebook Live, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Vkontakte, Odnoklassniki, and other social media platforms.”
Turkey: 12 million taken offline.
Turkey routinely restricts internet access to crack down on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, according to Freedom House, a pro-democracy group.
“On September 11, 2016, landline, mobile phone, and internet services were shut down in 10 cities for six hours, affecting some 12 million residents; the shutdown came as 28 Kurdish mayors were being removed from their posts.6 A month later, the government suspended mobile and fixed-line internet service in 11 cities for several days, leaving 6 million citizens offline. Key public services, such as banks and payment mechanisms, were reportedly unavailable,” Freedom House says.
India: 134 internet blackouts in 2018 alone.
Here’s a summary of all internet shutdowns in 2018.