The Internet goes dark in Egypt

First, Egypt blocked the social networks, now Egypt has blocked the Internet itself.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

First, Egypt blocked social networks like Facebook and Twitter. I had no trouble believing the Egyptian government would do that. But, when I first heard that Egypt had blocked the Internet, I was inclined to doubt the stories. Since then though I’ve heard from a technically savvy source, Renesys, an Internet analytics firm, that Egypt really has blocked the vast majority of its Internet connections. In short, the Egyptian government has cut its people off from the Internet.

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According to James Cowie, Renesys’ CTO, “In an action unprecedented in Internet history, the Egyptian government appears to have ordered service providers to shut down all international connections to the Internet. Critical European-Asian fiber-optic routes through Egypt appear to be unaffected for now. But every Egyptian provider, every business, bank, Internet cafe, website, school, embassy, and government office that relied on the big four Egyptian ISPs for their Internet connectivity is now cut off from the rest of the world. Link Egypt, Vodafone/Raya, Telecom Egypt, Etisalat Misr, and all their customers and partners are, for the moment, off the air.”

Specifically, “At 22:34 UTC (00:34am local time), Renesys observed the virtually simultaneous withdrawal of all routes to Egyptian networks in the Internet's global routing table. Approximately 3,500 individual BGP [Border Gateway Protocol] routes were withdrawn, leaving no valid paths by which the rest of the world could continue to exchange Internet traffic with Egypt's service providers. Virtually all of Egypt's Internet addresses are now unreachable, worldwide.”

I checked this out myself. Using miniRank’s listing of the most popular Egyptian Web sites, I was unable to reach 22 out of the 25 sites. The only sites which were responding were those of major car companies. I presume, from the pages I saw, that I was being re-directed to sites outside of Egypt.

I then looked further and discovered that many of the Egyptian DNS (Domain Name System) servers are not working. For example, as I write this at 11 PM Eastern time, frcu.eun.eg, ns.mcit.gov.eg, and ns.idsc.gov.eg are all returning server failure messages. DNS servers outside of Egypt, used by Egyptian sites, are reporting that are no records for major Egyptian sites.

The Egyptian government really has done it. They’ve essentially shut off their country from the Internet.

There seems to be one significant exception. Cowie wrote, “One of the very few exceptions to this block has been Noor Group (AS20928), which still has 83 out of 83 live routes to its Egyptian customers, with inbound transit from Telecom Italia as usual. Why was Noor Group apparently unaffected by the countrywide take-down order? Unknown at this point, but we observe that the Egyptian Stock Exchange is still alive at a Noor address.” When I checked, at approximately 11:30 PM Eastern time, the Egyptian Stock Exchange site was still alive.

Still, for the most part, Egypt’s citizens have been cut off from the Internet. We don’t know what will happen now. This is the first time that a government has locked its population out of the world wide community of the Internet. I fear this will not end well.

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