Ronnie05's Blog

Taking the Internet Down – Factors and Ease of Effort

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on December 2, 2012

Can the Internet really be taken down? The recent blackouts at Syria and Egypt beg this question to be answered. Can Internet be engineered to fail abruptly and completely in certain regions of this world?

The key to the Internet’s survival is the Internet’s decentralization — and it’s not uniform across the world.   In some countries, international access to data and telecommunications services is heavily regulated.  There may be only one or two entities who hold official licenses to carry voice and Internet traffic to and from the outside world, and they are required by law to mediate access for everyone else. Under those circumstances, it’s almost trivial for a government to issue an order that would take down the Internet.On the flip side, this level of centralization also makes it much harder for the government to defend the nation’s Internet infrastructure against a determined opponent, who knows they can do a lot of damage by hitting just a few targets.

With good reason, most countries have gradually moved towards more diversity in their Internet infrastructure over the last decade. Sometimes that happens all by itself, as a side effect of economic growth and market forces, as many different companies move into the market and compete to provide the cheapest international Internet access to the citizenry. Even then, though, there’s often a government regulator standing by, allowing (or better yet, encouraging) the formation of a diverse web of direct connections to international providers.

How easy is it to disconnect the Internet- A World map.

How easy is it to disconnect the Internet- A World map.

Renesys – Internet Monitoring and Intelligence agency, lists out the risks of Internet black outs by countries and by the number f Internet gateways to the country.

  • 1 or 2 companies at your international frontier-  Classified under severe risk of Internet disconnection.   Those 61 countries include places like Syria, Tunisia, Algeria, Turkmenistan, Libya, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Myanmar, and Yemen.
  • Fewer than 10 service providers- Probably exposed to some significant risk of Internet disconnection.    Ten providers also seems to be the threshold below which one finds significant additional risks from infrastructure sharing — there may be a single cable, or a single physical-layer provider who actually owns most of the infrastructure on which the various providers offer their services.  In this category, there are 72 countries, including Oman, Benin, Botswana, Rwanda, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uganda, Armenia, and Iran.   Disconnection wouldn’t be trivial, but it wouldn’t be all that difficult.   Egypt falls into this category as well; it took the Mubarak government several days to hunt down and kill the last connections, but in the end, the blackout succeeded.
  • More than 10 internationally-connected service providers, but fewer than about 40, the risk of disconnection is fairly low.  Given a determined effort, it’s plausible that the Internet could be shut down over a period of days or weeks, but it would be hard to implement and even harder to maintain that state of blackout.     There are 58 countries in this situation, ranging from Bahrain (at the small end) to Mexico (at the largest end).   India, Israel, Ecuador, Chile, Vietnam, and (perhaps surprisingly) China are all in this category.So is Afghanistan, reminding us that sometimes national Internet diversity is the product of regional fragmentation and severe technical challenges.  It’s true; the government in Kabul is powerless to turn off the national Internet, because it’s built out of diverse service from various satellite providers, as well as Uzbek, Iranian, and Pakistani terrestrial transit.
  • More than 40 providers-  Extremely resistant to Internet disconnection.   There are just too many paths into and out of the country, too many independent providers who would have to be coerced or damaged, to make a rapid countrywide shutdown plausible to execute.   A government might significantly impair Internet connectivity by shutting down large providers, but there would still be a deep pool of persistent paths to the global Internet.    In this category are the big Internet economies: Canada, the USA, the Netherlands, etc., about 32 countries in all.

In many other cases, Physical pathways would be a limiting factor, even with multiple providers.  They are all sharing the very few long-haul fiber paths to/from a country which if taken out could lead to the black outs.

(This post is Inspired by a Renesys blog and quotes Renesys figures on the black out probabilities in nations)

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