Egypt: Testing Ground for Internet Kill-Switch

Posted on 28/01/2011 by

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It seems that the Egyptian government has, at least for the moment, successfully removed its country from the Internet. Quoting from renesys.com:

One of the very few exceptions to this block has been Noor Group (AS20928), which still has 83 out of 83 live routes to its Egyptian customers…. Why was Noor Group apparently unaffected by the countrywide takedown order? Unknown at this point, but we observe that the Egyptian Stock Exchange (www.egyptse.com) is still alive at a Noor address.

Its DNS A records indicate that it’s normally reachable at 4 different IP addresses, only one of which belongs to Noor. Internet transit path diversity is a sign of good planning by the Stock Exchange IT staff, and it appears to have paid off in this case. Did the Egyptian government leave Noor standing so that the markets could open next week?

The answer is “yes”: the Egyptian government did not want to send the entire country back into the age of the Pharaohs all at once. However, I suspect that the Egyptian Stock Exchange is going to take a faceplant, no matter what the government does now.

Age of the Pharaohs, here we come!

Simply put, the Egyptian government has shown the entire world that it will put its self-preservation ahead of every other considerations, including smooth functioning of markets, information flow, and people’s investments and livelihoods. When the ESE next opens, I expect there to be a very sharp crash in the market, as very unhappy investors yank their money out of such easy reach of the Egyptian government.

Other beleaguered governments across the world are going to be watching this occurrence with careful consideration. Cutting off substantially all of a country’s access to the World Wide Web has never been attempted before, and is a move of insane recklessness. The least problem is a crashed stock market; the greatest I can think of is a country written off of international investment, a paralysis of internal resource allocation, and a population off-shoring wealth as quickly as possible.

Given the US’ penchant for trying to do what no one else has been able to make work, (colonising Afghanistan, anyone?) I expect that the US will try something like this, and soon. It won’t matter what the results are of this experiment in Egypt; the US is too foolhardy and self-aggrandising to read the situation clearly.

As WikiLeaks continues to publish, I suspect that the choice will be made to isolate substantially all of the US from the rest of the internet world. Markets will be left accessible, for ‘stability’, but investors both foreign and domestic will panic and draw all their investments out of markets and ship the money off-shore faster than Barack Obama can say ‘we do big things’.

I’ll stick my neck out and hypothesise that the trigger for a US kill-switch will be Bankgate and/or the Swiss tax evader documents. Suffice it to say, however, it’s such an incredibly stupid and destructive move, that the US government can’t possibly resist using it.

Stay tuned to the Egypt story, folks. It’s a testing ground for last-ditch techniques against information flows.

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Posted in: General, WikiLeaks