Last night, for the second time in roughly six months, the people of Syria saw their online ties to the outside world completely severed across the nation. Umbrella Security Labs, the threat research division of OpenDNS first reported the drop in both inbound and outbound traffic from Syria, noting the country had largely disappeared from the Internet. Google then followed up with news that all its services were inaccessible from Syria, while other companies that track the state of the Internet such as Akamai also confirmed the widespread outage.
Nineteen hours in another Internet research firm called Renesys reported that access was being re-established.
Local state-run media had reported earlier that a "fault in optical fibre cables" was to blame for the blackout, and that the government was working on repairs to restore service "as soon as possible."
Access to Google services from Syria - Google Transparency Report
Of course alternative explanations didn’t take long to surface. Opposition activists said the cutoff could be an ominous sign for rebels ahead of a possible attack on them by the government. Meanwhile, David Belson of Akama abstained from making any political comments, but did note that Syria's international internet connectivity is currently through at least four providers, and three submarine cables seem to be working. “As such, the failure of a single optical cable is unlikely to cause a complete internet outage for the country,” he said.
Syria last experienced a shutdown for three days in November. Activists said the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is attempting to "silence" rebel communications, as the outage coincided with a tense battle between rebels and loyalists just outside Damascus. The government for its part blamed the outage on terrorists.
Past incidents also occurred in June 2011 and in July 2012, both times in the midst of political unrest. The tactic severely impedes the ability for protesters to communicate with each other, organize themselves and shine a light on government abuses to the outside world. Its effectiveness could be argued, though, given the final outcome of blackouts in Egypt that did little to stop protests challenging Hosni Mubarak's decades long rule.