Remember the Information Superhighway? It’s what some folks used to call the Internet back in the 1990s. Those of us lucky enough to have access from home were using dial-up modems that were over 1,000 times slower than the cable modem I’m using right now. Nothing very Super about that and the Internet has never […]
How hard is it to disconnect a country from the Internet, really?
That’s the number one question we’ve received about our analysis of the Egyptian and Syrian Internet blackouts, and it’s a reasonable question. If the Internet is so famously resilient, designed to survive wars and calamities, how can it fail so abruptly and completely at the national level?
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 companies 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. Make a few phone calls, or turn off power in a couple of central facilities, and you’ve (legally) disconnected the domestic Internet from the global Internet. Of course, 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.
To understand why The Pirate Bay disappeared, we’ll look at them from a routing perspective, noting that without widely accepted routes to their IP space, they will lack global connectivity. TPB operates an autonomous system, AS 51040, which has two Internet service providers, namely, ROBTEX (AS 48285) and Serious Tubes Networks (AS 50066). TPB also has several peers, the most prominent of which is Hurricane Electric (AS 6939). To provide their services, The Pirate Bay originates two IP networks or prefixes: 22.214.171.124/24 (Pirate Networks) and 126.96.36.199/24 (The Pirate Bay). The 188.8.131.52/24 prefix appears to be TPB’s core network, while 184.108.40.206/24 appears to host TPB’s main domains, such as piratebay.net, piratebay.org, thepiratebay.com etc.
|The new EPEG terrestrial cable through Russia and Iran cannot come fast enough for Oman. Last month, three major submarine cables were severed by a ship’s anchor in the shallow waters of the Red Sea, including SEA-ME-WE 3 (SMW3).|
It is a fact of life of global Internet infrastructure that wherever shipping routes and cable routes overlap, submarine cable breaks are going to happen. In just the past two weeks, we’ve seen four major cable breaks: three at the same time in the Red Sea on Feb 17th, and a fourth right offshore near Mombasa, Kenya on Feb 25th.
East Africa has been hit hard by these breaks, but in fact, it’s easy to lose sight of how far Internet connectivity in this region has come in a few short years. It’s stunning to see how much of the Internet infrastructure in Kenya and Uganda is actually still up and running, although congested. East African ISPs have learned a tremendous amount in a short time about designing their networks for resilience and diversity, and that’s evident in the data pertaining to these cable breaks.
The graphic on the right illustrates the impact of the most recent TEAMS cable cut. Our data peg the time of the cut at 09:13 UTC on February 25, 2012, as providers throughout the region see sudden, massive shifts in their international Internet connectivity. Kenya normally has about 550 routed networks, and by this measure, over 60% of the country’s Internet became unreachable at this point. Uganda normally has about 180 routed networks, and experienced a similar degree of impairment. Rwanda and Tanzania do not appear to have been affected by this cable cut, which is not surprising, since TEAMS is a point-to-point cable connecting Kenya to the United Arab Emirates (see Telegeography’s online Submarine Cable Map).
Undersea cables are expensive to install. But if you’re an Asian Internet hub trying to connect to other Asian Internet hubs across un-cabled waters, what else can you do?
Well, one alternative we see is Internet Providers heading to California, as many Asian providers opt for Internet paths out of Asia to the west coast of the US, and then back to Asia. These tortuous routes, aptly called hair-pinning (observe their supple shapes), may be cost-effective initially, but generate latency, which can be a problem for some businesses (and their end users).
Today is World IPv6 Day, a day when major content providers have agreed to furnish service over IPv6 for a 24-hour test period. Hopefully, you didn’t notice anything different about your Internet experience today, but providers will have gained valuable experience with the technology and any technical hurdles that remain to be overcome. In this blog, we’ll report on how far into the IPv4-to-IPv6 transition we actually are and, more importantly, just how far we have to go. There is no denying that there has been a tremendous amount of progress in the last decade or so, but much remains to be done and we are only at the very beginning of a long process.
Today’s 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan has had surprisingly limited impacts on the structure and routing dynamics of the regional Internet. Of roughly 6,000 Japanese network prefixes in the global routing table, only about 100 were temporarily withdrawn from service — and that number has actually decreased in the hours since the event. Other carriers around the region have reported congestion and drops in traffic due to follow-on effects of the quake, but most websites are up and operational, and the Internet is available to support critical communications.
Those who have been following our blogs on Libya will be familiar with the excellent Google Transparency Report, which summarizes the rate of queries coming from each country over time. Despite terrible fires, floods, and power outages, traffic from Japanese clients just keeps going. It’s quite a remarkable plot.
Even before their communications blackout, Egypt really was a small part of the Internet in absolute terms, just a few thousand routable networks out of nearly 400,000 making up the global IPv4 address space.
To illustrate the point, we put together these images, which use a Hilbert curve representation of the Internet. The world’s routed networks are in translucent grey, the unrouted networks are in black, and Egypt’s networks are in orange. Look closely and you can see Egypt’s Internet presence embedded in Africa and Europe’s address space.
This has been an exciting month for those of us who study the Internet’s infrastructure and think about ways to keep it running (and growing). Did I say exciting? Maybe “exhausting” would be more accurate. From China, to Iran, to the US Congress, everyone seems to be wondering how best to control the Internet and bring it in line with local law.
And then came the latest iteration of the WikiLeaks drama.