Letter on “Egypt’s Autocrats Exploited Internet’s Weaknesses”
Regarding “Egypt Leaders Found ‘Off’ Switch for Internet“:
Dear James and John,
Interesting article. However, the following paragraph and much of what follows is incomplete or inaccurate.
Because the Internet’s legendary robustness and ability to route around blockages are part of its basic design, even the world’s most renowned network and telecommunications engineers have been perplexed that the Mubarak government succeeded in pulling the maneuver off.
The fundamental “building block” of the Internet is the Autonomous System (AS). Each AS is uniquely identified by an Autonomous System Number (ASN). In short, the internet is comprised of independent networks which voluntarily connect to each other by following the internet standards documents, known as RFC’s (“Request for Comments”).
How do systems know how to route traffic to other systems?
Today this is accomplished via BGP (Border Gateway Protocol).
Generally speaking, each AS broadcast routes via BGP over port 179.
What happened in Egypt is that, on January 28, most Egyptian AS stopped broadcasting routes via BGP, and thus became suddenly unreachable by almost all other internet AS. This was not a mystery to experts or even run-of-the-mill system engineers. It was immediately understood and documented.
How is it you did not talk to a single person with a clue as to what they were talking about? Or, did they know and simply not want to tell you so other governments would not exploit the same technique? In any event, had you googled “Egypt BGP” the answer would have become blindingly obvious to you instead of a “mystery.” The BGPmon post was referenced by at least 105 other blogs in the days following Jan 28, so the information was, and is, widely known and available.
Note: Article was being revised, and retitled, by nytimes as I wrote this letter.
Copyright © 2011 Henry Edward Hardy
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