On Tuesday May 7th 2013, the Syrian government shut down internet access to the entire country leaving helpless civilians and opposition activists trapped in the information darkness. As I write this I am struggling to stay awake, having spent the last 40-ish hours contacting hackers and crackers all over Syria who have, despite the extreme conditions, managed to create their own work arounds. A work around is simply a method of connecting to the internet that works around the blocks.
One person I spoke to reported hearing loud gunfire followed by a cut off of the phone line. He couldn’t get back through again.
For a while now Anonymous has been monitoring the ongoing situation in Syria as rebels attempt to take control of the country from President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad. Over the last few days, Anonymous, Telecomix and other hacking groups have worked through the night to help Syrians bypass the blackout by cold calling people, offering dial up codes as well as info on how to get their home routers working. One person I spoke to reported hearing loud gunfire followed by a cut off of the phone line. He couldn’t get back through again. The actual Internet itself in Syria was turned back on by the government following our dial up trick. People were getting back online anyway by that point.
This isn’t the first time Syria has lost Internet access. On the 29th of November 2012 it was closed for 48 hours. The official line was that it was taken down to disrupt communications between rebel forces which were attacking Demascas airport. There were fears the government was hiding military acts it didn’t want the world to see.
In this latest shut down the government has accused terrorists of cutting Internet cables. There are four different sets of cables linking Syria's Internet to the outside world, three of which run underwater and the fourth overland in Turkey. The idea that terrorists could not only reach all four cables but also cut them at exactly the same moment seems, frankly, ridiculous to us, considering that any rebel element would use encrypted Internet communications to communicate between groups, and the loss of the Internet would be a massive blow.
Services which connect networks to the main Internet backbone outside the country were systematically turned off by the government making connection to the standard Internet impossible.
The most feasible explanation was put forward by an analyst named Matthew Prince who explained that services which connect networks to the main Internet backbone outside the country were systematically turned off by the government making connection to the standard Internet impossible.
In a two year conflict which has seen over 70,000 people killed, the Syrian people have been using forums and websites to spread information on the dead and missing. Not to mention where the next bullet may be coming from. The internet is also vital in exposing the brutality of the crisis in the hope that international pressure will cause the Syrian government to stop the fighting.
Just last Sunday we watched in horror as Israel dropped what was believed to be a nuclear device on the city of Damascus. The explosion caused at least a kilometre high mushroom cloud so big it sparked its own lightning. This is not about sides. It isn’t really even about the revolution. This is about the people who are left huddled in the darkness.