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Syria’s Internet Access Being Restored, Web Companies Say

Photographer: Scott Peterson/Getty Images

Anti-government Syrian media activists set up an illegal internet satellite to upload photos and video of the destruction by government shelling and bombardment of areas controlled by the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Aleppo, Syria on Oct. 22, 2012. Close

Anti-government Syrian media activists set up an illegal internet satellite to upload... Read More

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Photographer: Scott Peterson/Getty Images

Anti-government Syrian media activists set up an illegal internet satellite to upload photos and video of the destruction by government shelling and bombardment of areas controlled by the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Aleppo, Syria on Oct. 22, 2012.

Syria’s Internet links to the outside world were restored almost 20 hours after e-mail, websites and other services became inaccessible across much of the country, Google Inc. (GOOG) and other Web companies said.

Google’s Web services are coming back online in Syria after being down since yesterday, according to the search provider’s transparency report, which tracks the status of products available to users around the world. The report showed an increase in traffic prior to 10:30 a.m. New York time today.

Others saw the return of Web traffic as well. Syria’s Internet returned after being down about 19 1/2 hours, according to Renesys Corp., a Manchester, New Hampshire-based Web-monitoring company. Umbrella Security Labs, part of Web traffic-services provider OpenDNS Inc., also confirmed that the country was back online.

The outage came after several other Internet disruptions in Syria, which is in the midst of a two-year civil war, according to Renesys. The last was in November, when the Internet was knocked out for several hours.

“This is the same sort of outage, and it appears to have been accomplished in the same ways, as the outage from several months ago,” said Matthew Prince, chief executive officer of CloudFlare, an Internet company that underwent outages yesterday in Syria.

The Internet has played a central role in the two-year battle between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his opponents.

Social Media (SOCL)

There is evidence that the use of social media, especially Facebook, sharply increased during the first year and a half of the conflict, according to a paper by Georgetown University graduate student Mary Zell, who’s lived in Damascus.

In February 2011, she wrote, Facebook’s penetration rate was 1.19 percent, and by June 2012 it had reached 15.3 percent, according to the Arab Social Media Report from the Dubai School of Government. Syrian rebel groups also use Twitter, YouTube and other social media, Zell wrote.

While the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency, says that in 2011 only 22.5% of the country’s population used the Internet, the figure fails to take into account the use of public access points such as coffee houses and the growing number of smartphones in the country, despite the fact that the government has banned them, said a U.S. official.

Fiber-Optic

Bakr Bakr, director general of the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment, a government-related company, blamed the Web outage on a malfunction in a fiber-optic cable, according to an earlier report by the Middle East News Agency. Maintenance teams were working to restore access, Bakr was cited as saying.

The reason for the disruption wasn’t immediately clear and may be due to a government-ordered shutdown of the Internet, according to Dan Hubbard, chief technology officer at Umbrella Security Labs and OpenDNS. Damage to infrastructure or cyberattack also are possibilities, though unlikely, he said. Internet services are provided in Syria through the state-owned telecommunications company, Hubbard said.

“Citizens of Syria have been cut off from Internet communication channels,” Hubbard said in an interview. “Anyone that has infrastructure or servers that are hosted there, or potentially hosted by the .sy server domain, would be offline.”

The latest disruption is similar to one that began Nov. 29 and lasted for two days, Hubbard said. Many companies that depended on the .sy server domain during the last outage have since changed their services, he said.

The U.S. and Russia will press the Syrian government and opposition leaders to participate in talks as soon as possible to end two years of civil war in the country, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Womack in San Francisco at bwomack1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tom Giles at tgiles5@bloomberg.net

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