Sudan loses Internet access — and it looks like the government is behind it

September 25, 2013
(Renesys)
See that drop near the right of the chart? That's the country going offline. (Renesys)

Internet intelligence corporation Renesys confirmed reports Wednesday that Sudan has been cut off from the Internet. Al Arabiya reported earlier Wednesday morning that Internet access was cut and schools were closed through Sept. 30, as capital city Khartoum erupted in riots over the lifting of government fuel subsidies.

"If confirmed to be government-directed, this outage would be the largest government-directed Internet blackout since Egypt in January 2011," says Doug Madory at Renesys. While they have previously seen large Internet outages in Sudan, those typically appeared to have been due to brief technical problems. But today's Internet blackout appears similar to another outage earlier in the summer that was reported to be government-directed ahead of a large protest.

"From a technical standpoint, the fact that it involved multiple distinct Internet service providers at the same time is consistent with a centrally coordinated action," Madory says, adding, "However, it is impossible to tell solely from connectivity data whether this was government-directed or a catastrophic technical failure."

The current riots have reportedly led to at least two deaths, and government forces firing tear gas into protesters that had torched a police station.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) urged Sudan to cut the subsidies when the country lost its main oil-producing territory after South Sudan became an independent state in 2011. Earlier attempts cut these subsidies sparked similar protests, but "they were quelled by a heavy crackdown on protesters, activists and journalists" according to the Associated Press.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has ruled the African nation since 1989, when he came to power in a military coup. He is currently wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged crimes related to the conflict between government-backed tribes and rebels in the Darfur region that took the lives of an estimated 300,000 people since 2003.

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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Andrea Peterson · September 25, 2013