Syrian outage to help make internet stronger

James Cowie/Renesys
09 May 2013

Update: Syrian internet has returned. Outage lasted 19.5 hours, from 18:45 UTC May 7th to 14:13 UTC May 8th.

As we write, the Syrian people are still disconnected from the global internet at the most fundamental level, nearly all of their paths withdrawn from the global routing table. Since 18:45 UTC on May 7th, Renesys hasn't seen a flicker of activity. We haven't been able to successfully send a ping or a traceroute to any host inside Syria. Government websites, universities, domain name servers, core infrastructure routers, banks, businesses, DSL customers, smartphones: all silent.

As I look back at what we've written about internet outage over the years, I see a sort of evolution in our perspective. We've covered internet failures due to war, politics, censorship, central planning, earthquakes, hurricanes, cable cuts, business disputes, terrorism, undersea mud volcanoes, and (perhaps) cyberwarfare.

In the early days, we reported each outage breathlessly, shocked that the internet could fail in such spectacular ways. If you look around the web this morning, you'll see a lot of that same shock-and-awe reporting from companies who are just discovering the fragilities visible in internet data.

In this case, however, what strikes me is the depressing sameness of the sequence of Syrian internet disconnections. Just as in June 2011, July 2012, August 2012, and November 2012, the entire nation disappeared from the internet in 30 seconds, as if a switch had been thrown. Everyone in the Twittersphere seems to share the same strange lack of perspective about these events — in the middle of the chaos and tragedy of civil war, why is anyone surprised when the internet stops working? Isn't it actually more shocking and noteworthy that the internet in Syria actually functions pretty well 360 days out of the year?

If you're looking for a different way to think about events like these, you might enjoy reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book, Antifragile (ironically, published just days before the last major Syrian internet disconnection).

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