Egyptian Unrest: Could a Total Shutdown of Internet Traffic Ever Happen in the U.S. Too?

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Fri, Jan 28, 2011 at 4:07 PM
click to enlarge Web traffic flatlined in Egypt. - THE DAILY WHAT
  • The Daily What
  • Web traffic flatlined in Egypt.

One of the more chilling aspects of the unrest in Egypt this week has been watching internet access in that country go almost completely dark. The shutdown of a web we rely on so much for the democratization of information is almost shocking.

The biggest question is, could it ever happen here? Los Angeles-based engineers gave birth to the precursor to the internet in 1969 at UCLA and, following its blast into our phones in the last five years, it would be hard to envision life without it -- especially in a time of crisis.

The website ars technica takes a look at how a country like Egypt might choke its citizens' internet access and ponders if it could possibly ever happen in the United States.

It's not exactly clear how Egyptian authorities, the targets of thousands of protesters decrying the authoritarian rule and alleged corruption that shape the country's leadership, shut down Twitter, Facebook and thousands of other communication channels.

But ars technica argues it wouldn't be that hard because Egypt has a relatively small number of internet service providers (four of them -- we have more than that in L.A.), fiber optic cables, "border routers," and Egypt-exclusive area-code like web "prefixes" (3,500).

Shutting any or all of the above down could have done the trick. Ars technica:

" ... The fact that everything went down after midnight local time suggests that it took considerable effort to accomplish the 'Net shut-off. After all, it seems unlikely that President Hosni Mubarak ordered the Internet to be shut down as he went to bed; such a decision must have been made earlier in the day, and then taken hours to execute."

Could it happen here? Unlikely: Unless the government has a system of switches in place we don't know about it, the web and its fortitude would live up to its reputation in such an event stateside, the site reports:

"Like in Egypt, in Europe almost all interconnection happens in the capitals of the countries involved. Not so in the US: because the country is so large, and traffic volumes are so high, large networks may interconnect in as many as 20 cities. Numerous intercontinental sea cables land in the Boston, New York, Washington DC, Miami, Los Angeles, and Seattle regions. So in Egypt or many medium-sized countries, killing the connections between ISPs wouldn't be too hard. In the US, this would be quite difficult."

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