Putin
Russia is building a parallel internet that Moscow will control.

Reuters

  • 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.

The scope of the 2016 internet outage after the attack on Dyn caused by Paras Jha and his colleagues.

Wikimedia CC / Reuters

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.

Prime minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia.

Aron Simeneh, CC

The Republic of Ingushetia, Russia: two-week web shutdown stymies protests in border dispute with Chechnya.

Russian President Putin on a televised phone-in show in Moscow.

Reuters

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”.

Mohamed Ould Ghazouani surrounded by reporters as he voted in Mauritania’s elections on June 22, 2019.

Reuters

Sudan: a “blockade on information in and out of Sudan.”

A chart showing the level of internet service in Sudan collapsing when the government cuts access.

Netblocks

Venezuela: President Nicolás Maduro blacks out the internet when his main opponent speaks.

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro waves during his visit to a food-packing center in Caracas.

Reuters

Zimbabwe: After 8 people were killed in protests over rising fuel prices in January, President Emmerson Mnangagwa shut down the internet.

People burned barricades in the streets on a rainy day in Harare, Zimbabwe, after the government doubled the price of fuel.

Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

Liberia: British hacker disables internet in attempt to help rival company.

Daniel Kaye was convicted of taking Liberia offline in 2016.

NCA

Democratic Republic of Congo: Internet goes down one day after a national election.

An attempt to transfer power from President Joseph Kabila to a new elected leader triggered the end of the internet in the DRC.

US State Dept.

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

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan throttles the internet routinely.

Kremlin.ru, CC

“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.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan does not allow the internet to run freely in Turkey.

Reuters

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.

Imtiaz Ismail Parray of the Srinagar police explains why they periodically block the internet.

YouTube / Vice / HBO

Here’s a summary of all internet shutdowns in 2018.


Access Now

More:

Features
internet shutdown


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