Disconnected: Syria's Internet Blackout

Collection with 7 media items created by U.S. Editor

28 Nov 2012 10:00

Written by Lara Setrakian:
Patrick Hilsman has a light on in Syria’s internet blackout. The 29-year-old New York native landed in Aleppo on Thursday morning to report on the conflict from the rebel-held section of the city, one of the city’s hardest hit neighborhoods.

“Shells have been going off all around us today. A school nearby was struck by rockets off a MiG jet overhead,” said Hilsman, speaking on Skype from a safehouse Aleppo.

But while he was online, reporting on the escalation in regime strikes, Syria’s internet blackout was taking hold across the rest of the country. Syria cut off access to internet service, isolating the country from the worldwide web. Internet traffic in and out of Syria dropped to zero, shortly after 12 noon local time. Web-monitoring service Akamai confirmed. “Syria is effectively off the internet.”

Hilsman stayed online through a satellite internet connection, using equipment brought in from Turkey, paid for by a French supporter of the Free Syrian Army.

The internet shutdown is an unprecedented move in Syria, the latest salvo in the cyber war between rebel force and the government of President Bashar al Assad.

“The regime has tried everything else…they have been increasing surveillance, increasing censorship. That’s why there’s this feel that this is a sign they’re getting desperate,” said Jillian York, an internet freedom expert at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

With Thursday’s internet blackout, information from Syria has slowed to a trickle. Syrian cyber activist Dlshad Othman estimates that less than one thousand people were online on Thursday in Syria, out of a population of 20 million.

That left journalists unable to report on the escalation in fighting.

“It’s a very serious problem. Journalists who don’t have this uplink are completely blacked out,” said Hilsman. As the blackout took effect, shelling intensified in Aleppo, which mirrored heavy fighting in other parts of the country.

The US government condemned Syria’s internet shutdown and said it is supporting the opposition with communication gear.

"They are all designed to be independent from and able to circumvent the Syrian domestic network precisely for the reason of keeping them safe, keeping them secure from regime tampering, from regime listening, from regime interruption," said State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

Othman, the cyber activist, says there aren’t enough of those kits in Syria to keep a significant number of people online. Plus, he says there are safety risks in using them to stay online.
“We’ve asked people to turn off their satellite connections,” said Othman.

“The regime may be scanning for those connections, so we’ve asked people to turn off their satellite connections to stay safe.”

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Aleppo Cries (Part 4 of 17)
Aleppo, Syria
By Maamoun
18 Oct 2012

Smoke rising in Aleppo sky, covering the city with its darkness.

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Destroyed Aleppo Field Hospital - Dar...
Dar al Shifaa, Aleppo, Syria
By Jean Carrere
28 Nov 2012

When I met him for the first time in late October, Zachariah told me that "Even in the middle of death, happiness can still rise," in reference to his upcoming wedding with Bushra. The two had been married for about two weeks when she was killed. Now, he spends almost everyday alone in the ruins of the hospital, mourning his wife.

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Destroyed Field Hospital in Aleppo - ...
Dar al Shifaa, Aleppo, Syria
By Jean Carrere
28 Nov 2012

The ground floor of what was for three months the field hospital in Aleppo. It was completely destroyed by a government airstrike on November 22nd. Between 35 and 40 were killed in the attack, including several medical staff. The rebel-controlled part of Aleppo is currently deprived of fully functioning medical facility.

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Early Morning Bombing In Aleppo
Aleppo, Syria
By Jean Carrere
28 Nov 2012

Local residents gather around a crater created by a government airstrike.

A syrian aircraft hit a local school twice at 6am on 29/11, dealing great damages to the facility, and disturbing the peace that was slowly coming back to the neighborhood. The school is located three blocks east of the now destroyed Dar al-Shifaa hospital, which was hit by an airstrike that caused more than 35 deaths on 22/11. So far no casualties were reported.

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Early Morning Bombing In Aleppo
Aleppo, Syria
By Jean Carrere
28 Nov 2012

Local residents gather to inspect the damage dealt to a school 15 minutes after a government airstrike.

A syrian aircraft hit a local school twice at 6am on 29/11, dealing great damage to the facility, and disturbing the peace that was slowly coming back to the neighborhood. The school is located three blocks east of the now destroyed Dar al-Shifaa hospital, which was hit by an airstrike that caused more than 35 deaths on 22/11. So far no casualties were reported.

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Civilian exodus in Aleppo
Aleppo, Syria
By Jean Carrere
29 Oct 2012

A man flees his ravaged neighborhood in Sallahadine in Aleppo after scavenging some of his belongings. The neighborhood had just been retaken by the Free Syrian Army, allowing civilians to come and collect their possessions before fleeing to safer areas.

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FSA fighter walks through ruins in Al...
Aleppo, Syria
By Jean Carrere
24 Oct 2012

An FSA fighter walks through the ruins of buildings that were hit by airstrikes and artillery fire next to the Bustan al-Basha frontline in Aleppo. The entire neighborhood has been ravaged by fighting.