Welcome to the Age of Internet Shutdowns

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Iranian government recent attempts in recent months to quell protests through internet shutdowns, digital curfews and content blocking are a particularly extreme example of how far regimes can go in limiting digital access. But new report from Internet infrastructure company Cloudflare, published today, highlights the staggering global prevalence of connectivity failures and their growing relevance to people and organizations around the world.

In 2022, Cloudflare began publishing reports compiling its internal observations of government shutdowns and notable outages around the world. As a content delivery network that also provides digital resilience services, the company sees many signals when parts of the Internet go down. For example, Cloudflare can evaluate Internet Protocol requests, such as for the Border Gateway Protocol routing system or the Internet Address Book domain name system, to gain insight into how the government performed the outage and where in the Internet backbone it implemented the connection block.

The specific geopolitical context and technical nuances of various digital disruptions can make detailed comparisons of disparate incidents difficult or useless. But Cloudflare, which operates in more than 100 countries and interacts with more than 10,000 network providers, is using its perspective and access to the global internet to track broader trends and offer a sense of the scope of how pervasive internet outages have become.

“Outages are increasingly being used as a means of managing communications,” says David Belson, head of data analytics at Cloudflare and a longtime internet outage researcher. “There are single points of failure for Internet connectivity, and things that are out of your control can affect your business, your organization, your individual collaborations. So if you are responsible, you may need to start factoring that into your risk matrix and think about specific steps to keep your online presence and the work you do online going smoothly.”

A new report looking at incidents in the fourth quarter of 2022 concludes that internet outage activity was actually lower or “slightly less active” as Belson puts it, compared to previous quarters last year. However, the report lists deliberate outages and outages in Bangladesh, Cuba, Iran, Kenya, Pakistan, Sudan, and Ukraine, as well as the United States, where Moore County, North Carolina experienced multi-day internet outages thanks to attackers. who shot at two people. electrical substations, causing power outages. Particularly in Ukraine and Iran, Cloudflare’s reports were a continuation of ongoing monitoring and incidents.

Internet outage introduced by the Cuban government October 1 was a continuation of the shutdowns that began in late September in an attempt to curb the protests. The uprisings arose in response to a hurricane that caused a power outage in the island nation and the widespread public perception that the Cuban government had spoiled the recovery.

The report also notes an accidental cable break in October in the UK’s Shetland Islands, as well as technical failures in Australia, Haiti and Kyrgyzstan.

“The most interesting thing about shutting down the internet is that we don’t usually see governments shutting off electricity, water or gas. They target the Internet because they believe shutting down the flow of information is vital,” says John Graham-Cumming, Cloudflare’s chief technology officer. “For many of us, the Internet is an essential utility that we cannot live without. These things do have an impact, including an economic one.”

Graham-Cumming and Belson note that they see a growing government reliance in many places on digital curfews and intermittent, recurring blackouts — a trend that is likely to continue. He even become ordinary cut off communications for several hours a day during university exams in some countries, ostensibly to reduce the likelihood of students being cheated. And in places like Ukraine, where connectivity outages are caused by constant attacks on critical wartime infrastructure, the consequences are relentless and serve as a particularly sobering illustration of this new digital normality.

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