Welcome to the age of internet blackouts

of the Iranian government Recent attempts in recent months to suppress protests through internet blackouts, digital curfews and content blocking have provided a particularly extreme example of how far regimes can go in restricting digital access. But a new report released today by internet infrastructure company Cloudflare highlights the staggering global prevalence of connectivity breaches and their growing relevance for people and organizations around the world.

In 2022, Cloudflare began publishing reports compiling internal government observations of internet outages and notable worldwide outages. As a content delivery network that also provides digital resiliency services, the company sees a number of signals when a part of the internet goes black. For example, Cloudflare’s routing system can evaluate Internet protocol queries, such as those for the Border Gateway Protocol or the Internet address book Domain Name System, to see how the government implemented the shutdown and where it implemented the connection blocking on the Internet backbone.

The specific geopolitical context and technical nuances of various digital disruptions can make detailed comparisons of disparate phenomena difficult or useless. But Cloudflare, which operates in more than 100 countries and interacts with more than 10,000 network providers, uses its global internet vantage point and visibility to track broader trends and offer a sense of scale about how the internet is spreading.

“The use of shutdowns as a communication control tool is growing,” says David Belson, Cloudflare’s head of data research and a longtime researcher of internet outages. “There are multiple points of failure for an Internet connection, and things beyond your control can affect your business, organization, and individual collaboration. So if you’re someone in a position of responsibility, you might need to put that into your risk matrix and start thinking about specific steps to ensure that your online presence and what you do online remains uninterrupted.”

A new report looking at events in the fourth quarter of 2022 concluded that internet outage activity was actually lower than in previous quarters last year, or as Belson put it, “slightly less active.” Still, the report lists deliberate shutdowns and outages in Bangladesh, Cuba, Iran, Kenya, Pakistan, Sudan and Ukraine, as well as in the United States, which suffered multi-day internet outages thanks to attackers who shot two people in Moore County, North Carolina. electrical substations cause power outages. Cloudflare’s report was a continuation of ongoing monitoring and incidents, particularly in Ukraine and Iran.

The Cuban government’s October 1 internet shutdown was a continuation of shutdowns that began in late September to quell protests. The uprisings came in response to a hurricane that knocked out electricity in the island nation, and there was widespread public sentiment that the Cuban government had botched the recovery process.

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

“The interesting thing about internet shutdowns is that we don’t usually see governments shutting off electricity, water or gas. They’re targeting the Internet because they see stopping the flow of information as important,” says Cloudflare CTO John Graham-Cumming. “For many of us, the Internet is an indispensable tool and we cannot live without it. These things really have an impact, including an economic impact.”

Graham-Cumming and Belson note that they see an increasing government reliance on digital curfews and intermittent shutdowns in many places—a trend that will continue. There is even becomes commonplace In some countries, disconnection for several hours a day during university exams is implemented to reduce the possibility of students cheating. Where critical infrastructure, like Ukraine, has been disrupted by persistent, wartime attacks, the effects are relentless, serving as a particularly sobering illustration of this new digital norm.

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