What’s Next For Syria’s Internet
Update: Internet access in Aleppo, Syria down again as Turk Telekom service to STE disrupted at 17:48:42 UTC yesterday, Aug 29 as confirmed by sources to the Washington Post.
With the recent high-profile cyber attack against the New York Times , purportedly by the Syrian Electronic Army, and the subsequent hacking of Syrian DNS servers, we have had a number of requests for an update on Syrian Internet connectivity.
While there haven’t been any major Syrian Internet outages in recent weeks, there have been a couple of developments to Syria’s international connectivity. As tensions rise, it seems probable that the set of international service providers willing to sell Internet transit to the Syrian government will continue to shrink.
|PCCW has consolidated its position as the main international provider into Syria, as shown to the right. Turk Telecom continues to come and go from Syria (we’ll say more about that in a minute), while Tata has recently exited the country entirely. As we reported last year, Tata has historically originated four Syrian prefixes directly, ones that were previously reported to have hosted anti-rebel malware. These prefixes have been down since August 25th at 10:01:20 UTC. Tata service to the Syrian incumbent, STE, also disappeared at the same time.|
Recent outages in Aleppo
During times of reported outages in Aleppo, latency measurements into Syria from our servers in Turkey jumped dramatically. Increased latencies are the result of longer paths: a direct handoff between Turk Telekom and STE changes to an indirect handoff from Turk Telekom to PCCW in Europe, to reach STE via submarine cables. The plots below illustrate these changes.
These observed changes in latencies matched reported outages in Aleppo from Twitter. Some tweets on the August 13th outage are shown below. (Twitter times in PST.)
Internet is reportedly down in Aleppo and phone lines are unstable. Electricity only available in some parts of the city. #Syria
— Serge (@Zinvor) August 13, 2013
This is the second day in a row that internet has been cut all over Aleppo,may god be with those people#Syria.
— Nadine Kassab (@Nadokassab) August 14, 2013
Aleppo update 14/8: - Water & electricity available - Petrol & bread available but long waits + expensive - Internet & cellphones down
— Serge (@Zinvor) August 14, 2013
Followed by tweets of the restoration on August 18th.
internet is back in Aleppo after being cut for almost a week, mobile phones were too, but came back 2 days ago #Syria
— edward dark (@edwardedark) August 18, 2013
— vahakn kesh (@vahaknk) August 18, 2013
— Syrian Lion (@OussamaFayrire) August 18, 2013
Breaks in Turk Telekom service to STE in July also appear to correspond to reports of Internet outages in Aleppo.
Internet cut off in Aleppo city for 2 days. Many think its because ppl threatened to protest against regime commander in Aleppo Gen. Khadour
— edward dark (@edwardedark) July 7, 2013
Internet back to Aleppo.. YAHOOOO #Aleppo
— Ahmadosios (@Ahmadosios) July 20, 2013
It is interesting that when direct Turkish routes are unavailable throughout Syria, the rest of the country continues to receive Internet through PCCW’s submarine cable connectivity — except users in Aleppo. Aleppo seems to receive Turkish transit, or nothing; perhaps the root cause of Turk Telekom’s service outage, such as a power outage, also impacts last-mile Internet service to this city.
As the tension between Syria and the international community continue to grow, one has to wonder what will happen to Syria’s Internet transit. PCCW and Deutsche Telekom now provide the majority of Syria’s paid transit. In case of hostilities, we might expect to see the end of Turk Telekom’s already-fragile transit through Aleppo. If DT and Sparkle follow Tata in departing the field, Hong Kong’s PCCW could find itself in the position of being Syria’s last connection to the world.