Egypt's net ruled by phone, not kill switch

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Egypt's net ruled by phone, not kill switch

BGP route withdrawals reversed.

A series of phone calls from Egyptian officials might have triggered the shutdown and subsequent reinstatement of internet connections in the country, experts say.

Egyptian internet connections were restored on Wednesday at 8.30pm in Sydney, after a government-imposed outage that lasted five-and-a-half days.

Craig Labovitz, chief scientist at Arbor Networks, saw the country's four largest internet service providers reappear on the global routing table within a half-hour period.

Noor Data Networks - the last to be disconnected - was also late to reconnect, coming online at 9.52pm according to network monitoring site BGPmon.

Arbor Networks' graph of Egyptian internet traffic.
Arbor Networks' graph of Egyptian internet traffic.

"The return followed a similar pattern to the shutdown," Arbor's Labovitz told iTnews today.

"Following the BGP [border gateway protocol] route announcements, network traffic returned fairly quickly over the space of a half[-hour] or so."

The reconnection process mirrored last week's disconnection which, according to internet information provider Renesys, began with Telecom Egypt seconds before 9.13am in Sydney on 28 January.

Raya Telecom withdrew its border gateway protocol routes to the internet one minute later, followed by Link Egypt, Etisalat Misr and Internet Egypt in four to six minute intervals.

Narelle Clark, vice-president of the Internet Society of Australia, speculated that the networks were withdrawn "with about a phone call's timing".

"What we believe to have happened was a series of phone calls made to the big four Egyptian ISPs, as well as to Vodafone and MobiNil the mobile operators," she told iTnews.

"So [the internet access was controlled] not [with] a kill switch, per se, but an order from the top."

Earlier this week, the Internet Society warned that a rapid reinstatement of Egyptian networks could disrupt traffic in neighbouring regions.

Reconnected routes would spark a wave of traffic path updates that could cause interruptions as routing equipment incorporated the new information into their state tables, Clark explained.

But neither the society nor Arbor observed any technical flow-on issues arising from the reinstatement of Egypt's internet connections.

"The return of Egyptian routes generated some level of churn, but the level of churn was modest and well within normal, expected operational levels," Labovitz said.

"The churn did not create significant issues for other Internet providers in the region."

Outage could cost more than $17.7 million a day

Mobile operator Vodafone reported that the Government had ordered it to shutdown mobile services in Egypt until 29 January.

Vodafone was also forced to send nationalistic messages to the people of Egypt - an order that it criticised, but complied with.

"Vodafone Group has protested to the authorities that the current situation regarding these messages is unacceptable," it stated.

"We have made clear that all messages should be transparent and clearly attributable to the originator."

A spokesman would not elaborate on Vodafone's experience and views, declining to address questions about its business plans for the region.

The company reportedly hired 100 extra workers in New Zealand after temporarily shutting down an 180-seat contact centre in Cairo, Egypt, during violent protests.

According to a Forbes report, OECD estimates that the outage cost Egypt $US18 million ($17.7 million) daily were conservative and neglected to account for outsourcing, e-commerce, and future business concerns.

After Google's regional head of marketing, Wael Ghonim, went missing in Cairo last Friday, the search giant has been appealing to the public for information on his whereabouts.

"A Googler, Wael Ghonim, is missing in Egypt," the company told iTnews this afternoon.

"The safety of our employees is very important to Google, so if anyone has any information please call the following U.K. number: +44 20 7031 300 or email"

Before he disappeared, Ghonim asked his Twitter followers to "pray for Egypt".

"Very worried as it seems that government is planning a war crime tomorrow against people," he wrote last Friday.

"We are all ready to die."

Google operated a crisis response page and a "Speak to Tweet" service that allowed Egyptians to communicate online via voice telephone in the face of the internet blackout.

Others, like net activist group Telecomix, were monitoring amateur radio channels and provided virtual private networks and proxies to Egyptian activists who required online anonymity.

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