Syria’s largest city just dropped off the Internet

August 30, 2013
(Renesys)
The red line from Aleppo goes to Turk Telekom, whose Syrian service is currently disrupted. (Renesys)

While the U.S. government continues to weigh military intervention in Syria, it appears that Syria's largest city has gone dark on the Internet. Aleppo, a city in Northern Syria that has been the site of intense fighting between rebel forces and the Assad regime, and the surrounding area appear to have lost connectivity to the Internet as of last night.

The Switch received a tip informing us that Internet was out in parts of Northern Syria. Following up on that lead, we contacted Doug Madory of Internet intelligence company Renesys. In a recent blog post, Madory explained that outages in the Aleppo area are strongly correlated to disruptions in Turk Telekom's service to the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment. When Turk Telekom service drops out of Syria, Aleppo appears to experience a "last mile" outage, but other areas continue to have Internet access through PCCW and Deutsche Telekom.

According to Madory, Turk Telekom service to Syria dropped out at 17:48:42 UTC on Aug 29. This suggests that Internet service in the Aleppo area has been out since last night.

Aleppo reportedly suffered a similar Internet and mobile outage Aug. 13. At the time, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group critical of the Assad regime, claimed both mobile telecommunications services and Internet were cut off.

Given the intense fighting in the Aleppo area, it's possible that the outages are related to local infrastructure damage. However, Internet outages in Syria have a curious history of happening at times convenient for the Assad regime. In November 2012, some 92 percent of national Syrian Internet traffic went offline as the regime was rumored to be mixing chemical weapon components, while 78 percent of traffic went offline in January when Assad gave a rare public address. Some past localized Internet outages have also coincided with government offensives in those areas.

Aleppo has been heavily contested by the Assad regime and Syrian rebels throughout the  bloody two-year civil war. Earlier this week, rebel forces took control of the strategic town of Khanasir between Aleppo and Hama, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, cutting off the only supply route between Aleppo and Assad's forces.

Last night, the BBC released a graphic video report showing the aftermath of an incendiary bomb dropped by a fighter jet on the playground of a school in the Aleppo area, killing more than 10 and leaving many more with devastating burns.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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