Syria's Internet Blackout: Sabotage or Collateral Damage?

Kirsten Salyer writes about consumer culture for Bloomberg View and is the site's engagement editor. She has also written for Condé Nast Traveler, Texas Monthly and Houston Community Newspapers. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism and international studies from Northwestern University.
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Syria's peek-a-boo game with the Internet resumed yesterday, as Internet connections to the outside world were disrupted.

Just before 3 p.m. Eastern Time yesterday, Google Inc.'s Web services in Syria were inaccessible, according to the company's transparency report, which tracks disruptions in the search provider's products. Other Web companies also reported outages.

Internet blackouts in Syria are becoming routine. This outage is similar to the Nov. 29 service disruption, which lasted for two days. The Syrian government has said it's working to repair the problem. The Syrian Telecommunications Establishment, a government-related company, said the outage was caused by a malfunction in a fiber-optic cable.

But security experts suspect the Syrian government of foul play, the New York Times reports. Technology has been a weapon on both sides of Syria's two-year conflict between President Bashar al-Assad and his opponents as battles have spread from the streets to the Web, and Internet and social media use have increased.

Renesys, a network security firm that studies Internet disruptions, attributes the recurring outages in part to the fragile nature of Syria's Internet and the lack of service-provider diversity. CloudFlare, an Internet security firm, put together this video showing the disruption.

As Bloomberg View has written, recent escalations of the Syrian conflict demand more international action. The U.S. and Russia will press the Syrian government to participate in talks to end the conflict, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday.

This blackout reinforces the need for Internet freedom to be on that agenda.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.