How Easy Is It to Switch Off Internet?

When an Arab Spring happens or a country is racked by civil war or even large scale Civil Unrest, one of the first things the current government does is switch off internet! China did it for 10 months in Xinjiang, governments of Syria, Libya and Egypt tried to do it with varying degrees of success.

Now, the question how do they exactly do it? I started looking around and found this great post on the Renesys blog.

Turns out that how easy or difficult to switch off the internet is largely a function of how many Internet Service Providers your country has that are connected to the Global Internet. Think of a Globally Connected ISP as the gatekeeper to the country as whole – once you are in the country, you can go anywhere you please but first you have to get past the gatekeeper (reminds of the immigration counters at airports!). So if you have to stop anyone (global internet) from entering your country, you have to convince or coerce or order your gatekeepers to shut the gates! Like having long and porus borders, the more you have, the difficult it is to stop anyone from entering.

The Renesys blog has categorized countries by number of globally connected ISPs (or like BBC likes to call them – Frontier ISPs) and has assigned each country a risk rating -Severe (61), Significant(72), Low (58), and Resistant (32). So, if you have 1 or 2 globally connected ISPs – you are a ‘Severe Risk’ country. Surprisingly, there are 61 countries in this list – the usual suspects of Syria, Turkmenistan, Libya, etc but also some surprising countries like Greenland. Thankfully, India is in the low risk category with between 10 and 40 globally ISPs. Unfortunately, the blog does not provide a list of ISPs. Since I have recently been evaluating leased line providers for our office, I know that Tata Telecom, Bharti Airtel, Reliance and Tulip do have a dedicated submarine cable(s) – which I am guessing connects them to the global internet. But apparently, there are dozens more and that is a great thing – more difficult to shut down internet if our society rises up against rampant corruption !!!!

My only suggestion to the Renesys blog would be to change the categorization from “Risk” to “Ease’ – since there is virtually no risk of Greenland or Andorra shutting down it’s internet. At the same time, China, for instance, is in the ‘Low Risk’ category but seriously, how long would it take for China to order all it’s gobally connected ISPs to stop incoming/outgoing traffic from/to outside of China? Maybe an hour? After all, I assume ISPs would want to keep doing business in China (remember the recent VPN ban)? So this ‘Map’ actually measures ‘Ease’ of shutting down the internet and not the risk of that event itself happening.

But apparently, once you convince or coerce or order the ISPs – it’s as easy as writing a command line… and there you go… No INTERNET!!!

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