Sudan drops off Internet amid internal strife

Cause remains uncertain, though one report says Sudanese government is behind blackout

In what has become a familiar pattern in countries in crisis, the government in Sudan appears to have pulled the plug on Internet services there.

U.S. Internet monitoring firms Wednesday reported that all Internet services to and from Sudan suddenly went offline around 6 a.m. ET today as Sudanese security forces were attempting to quell rioters in northern Khartoum.

The riots, which the government describes as acts of premeditated sabotage, started a few days ago and have quickly turned into a movement for the ouster of Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, according to an Associated Press report.

Doug Madory, an analyst at monitoring firm Renesys, said it's hard to know for sure whether the blackout is the result of government action, though signs do point towards that.

"From a technical standpoint, the fact that [the blackout] involved multiple distinct Internet service providers at the same time is consistent with a centrally coordinated action," Madory said. "However, it's impossible to tell solely from connectivity data whether this was government-directed or a catastrophic technical failure."

Madory pointed to a report in the English-language version of the Al Arabiya newspaper on Wednesday that said government action caused the blackout.

"If confirmed to be government-directed, this outage would be the largest government-directed Internet blackout since Egypt in January 2011," Madory noted. There have been large-scale Internet outages in Sudan in the past, but those were typically caused by brief technical problems, he noted.

Over the past few years, several governments have resorted to cutting off Internet services within their countries during times of civil unrest in apparent bids to control the flow of information. The most notable examples include Egypt and Syria .

Others countries, such as Iran, Tunisia, Russia, China and Pakistan, have also attempted to choke off communications by shutting off access to services like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His email address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

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