egypt rerouting

I interrupt my own article with something that occurred to me while writing:

Here’s the big question I have. If Egypt’s Internet network was taken down with a series of phone calls, then who made those calls? If it was from the government, then are those people still in position? If the entire cabinet has resigned (as McLaughlin’s letter below implies), and Mubarak is not doing anything, then IS there someone to call them to turn Egypt’s network infrastructure back on? If no one seems to be in charge, then I wonder if Egypt’s Internet shutdown continues at this point simply because there’s no one to make the counter calls. In which case, I call on anyone with access to those networks to bring them back up and restore Egyptians’ rightful access to these networks. The longer they are left off, the more dire the consequences to Egypt’s future economy and participation in the region’s networks.

Let me give some background here by drawing your attention to a several articles. First: Tech world stunned at Egypt’s Internet shutdown

The government’s surprising move came in the face of widespread civil unrest, but essentially wiped the country off the world’s online maps, said Jim Cowie, chief technology officer and co-founder of Renesys, a New Hampshire firm that monitors how the Internet is operating.

“It is astonishing because Egypt has so much potentially to lose in terms of credibility with the Internet community and the economic world,” Cowie said. “It will set Egypt back for years in terms of its hopes of becoming a regional Internet power.”

By way of interesting contrast, check out this interview at Wired: Tunisia Internet Chief Gives Inside Look at Cyber Uprising.

In light of that, this is a most interesting letter from Andrew McLaughlin, former White House Deputy CTO: An Open Letter to Dr. Tarek Kamel, Minister of Communications and Information Technology of Egypt

The news anchors are reporting that Egypt’s Cabinet has just submitted its resignation, and a new Prime Minister has been appointed. As Egypt’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology since 2004, you are now most likely heading back to private life.

As a friend, I write to urge you to take one final action before you walk out the door of your Ministry: Give the order to reconnect Egypt to the global Internet, and to drop all remaining blocks on wireless networks.

Unless you act now, in your final hours as Minister, to reverse the Internet cutoff, your name will forever be associated with an unprecedented human rights violation on a national scale, and an economic catastrophe triggered by a shortsighted regime’s drive for self-preservation. That would be a tragedy for many reasons, but most of all because I am certain that you don’t, in your heart, believe this decision to be right.

[…] Through your early work to bring network links to Egypt and your later service as a Trustee of the Internet Society, you demonstrated your understanding of, and commitment to, the Internet as a powerful tool for free expression and human development. And indeed, until last week, Egypt’s Internet, under your administrative guidance, was notable in the Arab world for being free and open — almost entirely uncensored.

[…]Moreover, innovative Egyptians are finding ways to overcome the block. They are relaying information by voice, exploiting gaps in your digital Iron Curtain, and dusting off old modems to tap foreign dial-up services. To seek to lock Egyptians behind an airtight seal is triply wrongheaded: it harms Egyptians, increases tensions, and, ultimately, can’t be sustained.

Finally, and not least, your use of the Internet kill switch is about to start inflicting serious harm to Egypt’s economy, its markets, its workers, and its soundness in the eyes of trading partners and investors. Already, Egypt’s reputation as a reliable hub for Internet services and infrastructure — a reputation you have labored tirelessly for more than a decade to fashion — has suffered incalculable damage. (Yes, your sophisticated cutoff techniques cleverly made your networks unreachable without interfering with other countries’ traffic transiting Egyptian territory and seaways, but the perception that Egypt can’t be trusted with critical communications is now widespread, growing, and grounded in reality.)

Note both the technical and social connections referenced here. This is partly why the tech world is so stunned — many of these are people we know and have worked with before. (I use “we” in a very large sense, of course: although anyone who works online and especially in networking will have similar experiences.)

As for determining what exactly happened last Friday and since, @ioerror wrote a description of the situation as of today of Egypt’s networks Recent events in Egypt. @ioerror is associated with the Tor project (wiki entry: Tor) which allows anonymized proxy connections, meaning that a given connection’s origin and data are safely obscured and encrypted.

@ioerror was in the middle of analyzing Egypt’s network when it was taken down on Friday — I was watching his twitter feed at the time which was providing a stream of information about what he was discovering. Up to then, he had been finding evidence of filtering: mostly crude attempts to make facebook and twitter less useful for the protesters via simple IP address blocklists. Once the blackout itself occurred, he was able to determine that the networks shut down their outgoing routing information through the bridges and relays linking them to the outside world — not only that, but also to each other. The only network that is still up is ISP Noor:

At this point it is also well-known that the ISP Noor has been up through the entire event. With access to systems inside of Egypt, we have discovered that it appears to be entirely unfiltered – Tor works perfectly, controversial websites are not blocked, and it is even quite fast compared to our systems on other Egyptian networks. As of very late last night [Friday], systems from Noor were still unable to reach systems on TE Data or other networks in Egypt. Early this morning [Saturday] it appears that another ISP, Etisalat (AS36992), returned to the Internet (via nileonline.palermo7.pal.seabone.net) and we’re working with contacts in Egypt to test any possible filtering and to ensure that Tor is functional on their network.

However, @ioerror goes on to caution:

While the seemingly unfiltered nature of Noor’s network is a positive development and sharply contrasts with the heavy filtering of TE Data’s network, we have no methods for discovering data retention policies or wiretapping capabilities of any of the available networks in Egypt. We urge all people in Egypt to consider that any ISP may log data and depending on political outcomes, it may not be favorable to have easy to trace records of your online activities.

Many Egyptians are also using dial up services that route through the Egyptian controlled state telecommunications systems. While on the face this seems safe and it may very well be safer than a known filtered or probably wiretapped network, it’s certainly not outside of the capabilities of the Egyptian authorities to decode or analyse these kinds of communications. We urge people who are using dial up systems or leased lines, VSAT or even BGAN connections to be cautious. The nature of any internet connection has a variable difficulty for monitoring but it is by no means impossible. That’s why we’re working so hard on Tor because the world needs software for traffic analysis resistance; the internet doesn’t have this for free and certainly not in a country with a highly centralized internet architecture.

There is a serious trade off to be made by users in hostile network environments with major political instability: Tor usage is possibly detectable with a skilled adversary. Connections made with questionable “privacy” or “security” proxy services are certainly easier than detecting Tor because of their static nature. The same is true of VPN services: all of these things are probably detectable with the right understanding and the proper equipment. It goes without saying that entirely unprotected connections to known unfavorable sites or services is detectable and well within the reach of the Egyptian network operators.

There is a good deal of valuable information being sent around — and not just software or procedures like this, but also calls for assistance, materials, and other needs that are rapidly provided by others following the work as it happens. As I said before, I think it’s this sort of spontaneous and dynamically effective organization that scares national governments.

In light of all these events in Egypt, it is truly jaw dropping to note this: Internet ‘Kill Switch’ Legislation Back in Play

Legislation granting the president internet-killing powers is to be re-introduced soon to a Senate committee, the proposal’s chief sponsor told Wired.com on Friday.

The resurgence of the so-called “kill switch” legislation came the same day Egyptians faced an internet blackout designed to counter massive demonstrations in that country.

The bill, which has bipartisan support, is being floated by Sen. Susan Collins, the Republican ranking member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The proposed legislation, which Collins said would not give the president the same power Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak is exercising to quell dissent, sailed through the Homeland Security Committee in December but expired with the new Congress weeks later.

I am simply astonished at the mindset of our Congress — do these people not even see how this looks? (Slactivists: the petition is here Protect Democracy: Fight Internet ‘Kill Switch’.)

In any case, shutting off the Internet in response to some perceived “cyber attack” would be ridiculous. It would be analogous to our blowing up every skyscraper in the U.S. after 9/11, to make sure no more planes could fly into them. The damage inflicted by a thrown kill switch in this country would be incalculable, widespread, and devastating.

ZOMFG 574LLm4N W45 r19H7!

In light of all that, reading this article makes a hell of a lot more sense. Do read it through: it is long, but accessible even if you’re not a geek like me: Smoke Signals

The epicenter of this transition, where all three streams collide, sits in the palm of our hands, nearly all the time.  The mobile is the most pervasive technology in human history.  People who do not have electricity or indoor plumbing or literacy or agriculture have mobiles.  Perhaps five and a half billion of the planet’s seven billion souls possesses one; that’s everyone who earns more than one dollars a day.  Countless studies shows that individuals with mobiles improve their economic fitness:  they earn more money.  Anything that improves selection fitness – and economic fitness is a big part of that – spreads rapidly, as humans imitate, as humans communicate, as humans take the tool and further it, increasing its utility, amplifying its ability to amplify economic fitness.  The mobile becomes even more useful, more essential, more indispensable.  A billion seconds ago, no one owned a mobile.  Today, nearly everyone does.

Hundreds of billions of dollars are being invested to make the mobile more useful, more pervasive, and more effective.  The engines of capital are reorganizing themselves around it, just as they did, three billion seconds ago, for the automobile, and a billion seconds ago for the integrated circuit.  But unlike the automobile or the IC, the mobile is quintessentially a social technology, a connective fabric for humanity.  The next billion seconds will see this fabric become more tangible and more tightly woven, as it becomes increasingly inconceivable to separate ourselves from those we choose to share our lives with.

This is an amazing article — go and read it now!

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