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Syria goes to extremes to foil cheaters

Early this morning in Syria, the Internet was almost entirely down for four hours.  It was the ninth such outage since 31 July 2016 — each one lasting from approximately 4am to 8am local time.  And, according to sources inside Syria, the objective of these outages was to prevent cheating on national High School exams.  The motivation for today’s national outage: a Chemistry final.

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Below is the High School exam schedule that was evidently driving these national Internet blackouts.

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Last year, we first reported on country-wide Internet blackouts in Iraq to prevent cheating during their national 6th grade placement exams.  The Atlantic magazine covered this story when Iraq began conducting Internet outages again earlier this year for more exams.  Also Algeria, Uzbekistan, and the Gujarat region of India have also all recently blocked mobile service to prevent students from cheating on their exams.

It is striking how far we have come since Egypt in 2011, when their country-wide outage was a huge international story.  National Internet blackouts are so routine and banal that they are now becoming a common tactic to prevent cheating among youth.  In fact, this latest round of exams were the make-up exams for students who couldn’t sit for the first round of exams, which occurred in June, and were the motivation for another round of national outages in Syria that we tweeted about several weeks ago:

According to our sources, the Internet is taken down from 4am to 8am, while the exam is being distributed around the country — or at least the portion of the country still participating in the national Syrian education system.  When the exams begin at 8am, mobile service is taken down until 11am.  In years past, exam questions would begin appearing on social media 30-60 minutes before each exam, thus allowing cheaters to circulate correct answers and compromise the integrity of the test.

#KeepItOn

We have been documenting the sad history of Internet blackouts in Syria on this blog going back to June 2011 as violence began to erupt in this troubled country and the Internet started to disappear with some regularity.  Five years later in June 2016, advocacy group Access Now launched its #KeepItOn campaign to raise awareness of Internet blackouts around the world and to “challenge service providers to fight back against government shutdown requests.”

If that is a topic that interests you, you can take a pledge to spread the word about such outages.  We will continue, as we have for many years, to document such incidents here on this blog and on Twitter.

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Whois: Doug Madory

Doug Madory is a Director of Internet Analysis at Dyn where he works on Internet infrastructure analysis projects. Doug has a special interest in mapping the logical Internet to the physical lines that connect it together, with a focus on submarine cables.