Sunday, February 13, 2011

Algeria Remains Online, Say Cyber Activists and Internet Engineering Monitors

BGPMon Confirms Renesys' Finding that Algeria Remains Online; Telecomix Prepares for New Blackouts as it Distances Itself from Anonymous 02/13/2011 San Francisco - Algeria remains online, contrary to inaccurate reporting first published in the UK's Daily Telegraph Saturday afternoon. has confirmed, via direct communication with Andree Toonk of the Canada-based BGPMon global Internet monitoring service, the initial findings of monitoring firm  Renesys stating the same pattern of facts. The Manchester, New Hampshire firm was first to report Saturday afternoon (EST) that Algerian Internet connections had not be disrupted. Toonk further told us he sees no disruption of specific sites, like Facebook, in the North African nation. 

This latter  information from BGPMon is critical, as additional reports have suggested site specific disruptions or take downs.

The central government of Algeria has thus not to date deployed a so-called Internet "kill switch" operation akin to that used by the former Mubarak regime in Egypt. While there have been some reports suggesting filtering or throttling of specific sites, verified technical remote inspection shows no social media sites or other online resources, previously allowed to operate in-country, have been blocked.

The misnomer "kill switch" has become shorthand to refer to a national level series of operations which deny connectivity between and among in-county Internet service provides (ISPs) country and the global backbones that connect them to the world.

This is our best assessment of the situation early Sunday morning, February 13, following our direct communication with Mr. Toonk, and with pro-democracy activists that had a substantial role in supporting tech alternatives to the former Egyptian Internet blackout. For these activists and professional Internet engineering experts, Algeria is the telltale for potential Internet disruption in other nations across as pro-democracy activity shakes authoritarian regimes cross the Middle East and North African (MENA) region. 

The Telegraph's published report of early Saturday afternoon (EST) stated that Algerian Internet users were experiencing full loss of service, thought to be at a national level. The Telegraph report, written by freelancer Nabilia Ramdani, was simply inaccurate, published before technical verification of scattered anecdotal statements were verified.

The Telegraph's reporting appears based in interviews with Algerian Internet users and pro-democracy protesters on the ground. National-level denial of Internet services, via the disruption of either international or intra-national peering between and among ISPs and global transit providers, is technically monitored by the remote inspection of border gateway protocol (BGP) router connectivity. That technical means, in the hands of Internet engineering experts, is the accepted standard for determining large scale Internet disruption.  

BGPMon Agrees with Renesys, Sees No DNS Disruption
As we reported on February 2, 3 North American firms played the lead role in showing the world how and when Egyptian authorities deployed a so-called "kill switch" operation to cut off all Internet communication within Egypt, and between Egyptian users and the world.  As of this posting, two of the three firms have reported seeing no Internet disruption in Algeria. has confirmed with the principal of the Internet engineering and monitoring site BGPMon that firm concurs with an earlier published assessment of Renesys that Algeria remains online. Adree Toonk of BGPMon emailed this publication at 11:43 PM (EST) Saturday. 

Mr. Toonk stated, "I have not seen any signs of instability or other strange behavior in our BGP data for Algeria. I've done a bit more testing using DNS. Also there nothing strange as far as I can see. DNS requests for Facebook and twitter are coming back with correct answer." Toonk, based in Vancouver, British Columbia continues to monitor both BGP and DNS data on Algerian routes and sites. 

James Cowie, co-founder and CTO of Manchester, NH based Renesys posted on the firm's blog at 5:10 PM (EST) Saturday that he and his colleagues "don't see confirming evidence for" reports of Algerian Internet disruption. 

Telecomix Sees No Major Disruption, Prepares for New National "Kill Switches"
A consensus on active online message boards of the pro-democracy digital activist confederation called Telecomix throughout the latter part of Saturday and into Sunday held with the information reported by Renesys, and confirmed for this publication by BGPMon.

Telecomix, with a majority of its members located in countries of the European Union, was the lead group which organized technical work arounds to the total Internet blackout imposed on Egypt. The group found, recruited, and verified what became hundreds of working dial-up modem lines which Egyptians used to access the Internet via outbound calls. 

During Saturday, Telecomix members gathered information about the status of the Internet in multiple Arab countries and in Iran. They worked to validate new working modem numbers, in anticipation of the need to distribute the lists in any country that engaged in Internet disruption at the national level.

Telecomix Distances Itself from Anonymous
Telecomix and the hacktivist group Anonymous, share some points of similiar ideology, and some members. The two groups are however distinct -- a distinction which grew during Saturday. One Telecomix supporter described to this publication several "overlaps" between the two decentralized networks, yet stressed the divergence of views and tactics. 

Anonymous famoulsy claimed credit for disrupting online operations of American corporations that bowed to government pressure to deny WikiLeaks resources.  The group now states it is engaged in leaking emails associated with firms alleged to have targeted WikiLeaks on behalf of the Bank of America. 

Strings of Telecomix messages streamed on its active message boards during Saturday stressed to readers that it saw the stated efforts of Anonymous to go after online sites of the Algerian government to be counter productive.

In our view, Telecomix participants are engaged in relatively public efforts to help engineer work around strategies, and not in supporting denial of service or other similar efforts which result in the take downs of sites. Such activity is illegal under the laws of most nations, and the typical Telecomix member / activist appears to have no desire to engage in breaches of the law involving direct site take down activity.
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