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What’s Next For Syria’s Internet

Update: Internet access in Aleppo, Syria down again as Turk Telekom service to STE disrupted at 17:48:42 UTC yesterday, Aug 29 as confirmed by sources to the Washington Post.

latencies_new_aleppo_vps01.esb1_s latencies_new_aleppo_vps01.ist2_s

With the recent high-profile cyber attack against the New York Times , purportedly by the Syrian Electronic Army, and the subsequent hacking of Syrian DNS servers, we have had a number of requests for an update on Syrian Internet connectivity.

While there haven’t been any major Syrian Internet outages in recent weeks, there have been a couple of developments to Syria’s international connectivity. As tensions rise, it seems probable that the set of international service providers willing to sell Internet transit to the Syrian government will continue to shrink.

International Providers

PCCW has consolidated its position as the main international provider into Syria, as shown to the right. Turk Telecom continues to come and go from Syria (we’ll say more about that in a minute), while Tata has recently exited the country entirely. As we reported last year, Tata has historically originated four Syrian prefixes directly, ones that were previously reported to have hosted anti-rebel malware. These prefixes have been down since August 25th at 10:01:20 UTC. Tata service to the Syrian incumbent, STE, also disappeared at the same time. 29386_SY

Recent outages in Aleppo

In recent weeks, we have read Twitter reports of Internet outages in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, but have not seen corresponding outages in our comprehensive global routing data. This is not in and of itself surprising, since last-mile outages can be difficult to observe if country-internal routing remains operational. International connectivity into Syria is provided via three submarine cables and a Turkey-Syria terrestrial link, as depicted to the right.But while routing into Syria has remained relatively stable, we have observed a strong correlation between disruptions in Turk Telekom service to Syrian incumbent STE and STE’s service to Aleppo. The coincidence of reported Internet outages in Aleppo during periods when Turkish transit is unavailable throughout Syria suggests a localized failure in shared infrastructure. syria-connections

During times of reported outages in Aleppo, latency measurements into Syria from our servers in Turkey jumped dramatically. Increased latencies are the result of longer paths: a direct handoff between Turk Telekom and STE changes to an indirect handoff from Turk Telekom to PCCW in Europe, to reach STE via submarine cables. The plots below illustrate these changes.

latencies_SY_TR_Aug_vps01-1.esb1_s latencies_SY_TR_Aug_vps01-1.ist2_s

These observed changes in latencies matched reported outages in Aleppo from Twitter. Some tweets on the August 13th outage are shown below. (Twitter times in PST.)

Followed by tweets of the restoration on August 18th.

Breaks in Turk Telekom service to STE in July also appear to correspond to reports of Internet outages in Aleppo.

latencies_SY_TR_Jul2_vps01.esb1_s latencies_SY_TR_Jul_vps01.ist2_s


It is interesting that when direct Turkish routes are unavailable throughout Syria, the rest of the country continues to receive Internet through PCCW’s submarine cable connectivity — except users in Aleppo. Aleppo seems to receive Turkish transit, or nothing; perhaps the root cause of Turk Telekom’s service outage, such as a power outage, also impacts last-mile Internet service to this city.

As the tension between Syria and the international community continue to grow, one has to wonder what will happen to Syria’s Internet transit. PCCW and Deutsche Telekom now provide the majority of Syria’s paid transit. In case of hostilities, we might expect to see the end of Turk Telekom’s already-fragile transit through Aleppo. If DT and Sparkle follow Tata in departing the field, Hong Kong’s PCCW could find itself in the position of being Syria’s last connection to the world.

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Doug Madory
Whois: Doug Madory

Doug Madory is a Director of Internet Analysis at Oracle 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.

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