Middle East Internet Scorecard (February 12 – 20)

The success of the Tunisian and Egyptian protest movements inspired demonstrations throughout the Middle East last week, including large-scale social media coordinated protests in Libya, Iran, Bahrain, Algeria, Jordan and Yemen. In several of countries, governments responded to the calls for reform with arrests and violent suppression of public demonstrations. Increasingly, several Middle Eastern governments also may be disrupting phone and Internet communication to contain the spread of unrest.

These new Internet filtering efforts come a week after Egypt returned to the Internet following an abortive effort to block protests demanding the then president, Hosni Mubarak, resign. While other countries, including Iran and Myanmar, disrupted telecommunication following social unrest in the past, the Egyptian outage represents a new Internet milestone – the first highly connected, telecommunication dependent society to intentionally disconnect from the Internet [1,2].

This analysis uses real-time data from the 110 Internet providers around the world to identify possible ongoing Internet traffic manipulation in Middle East countries with active protest movements. More details on our data collection infrastructure and methodology are available in our recent academic paper [3].

Overall, our data shows pronounced changes in Internet traffic levels in two Middle East countries last week: Bahrain and Libya. While network failures and other exogenous events may play a role in decreased traffic volumes, we observe the changes in Bahrain and Libya are temporally coincident with the onset of recent protests. Several Bahrain telecommunication companies blamed the slowdown on “overloaded circuits” and extremely high usage [4].

We note that many countries in the region maintain some level of permanent Internet limits, including blocks on dissident web sites, social media and adult content [5]. The traffic volumes graphed on the following page represent possible traffic manipulation beyond normal filtering practices.

In the below chart, we show the “normal” traffic in and out of each country averaged over the proceeding three weeks in green. The dotted red line in each graph shows the traffic over the last seven days. Orange shaded areas indicated periods of statistically abnormal traffic either last week or the week of February 14. Abnormal traffic volumes may network failures or periods of intentional traffic manipulation. Due to the near complete block of all Internet traffic (January 27 – February2), the Egyptian graph shows orange for most of last week as traffic levels climbed to normal. Yemen Internet traffic also exhibited brief, though unusual dips, during the prior week (February 7-11) and also includes an orange period.

While the Internet has proven a powerful tool for rallying social and political change, so too have governments recognized their regulatory and technical capability to disrupt communications. The next few weeks will likely prove a major contest between the continued evolution of the Internet as a vehicle for political change and authoritarian governments’ continued assertion of control.

A PDF version of this analysis is also available.

End Notes

[1] Craig Labovitz, “Egypt Loses the Internet”. Arbor Networks blog post. Available at /2011/01/egypt-loses-the-internet. January 28, 2011.

[2] James Cowie, “Egypt Leaves the Internet”. Renesys blog post. Available at http://www.renesys.com/blog/2011/01/egypt-leaves-the-internet.shtml. January 27, 2011.

[3] Craig Labovitz, Scott Iekel-Johnson, Danny McPherson, Jon Oberheide, and Farnam Jahanian, “Internet Inter-Domain Traffic”. Proceedings of ACM SIGCOMM 2010, New Delhi. August, 2010.

[4] Christopher Rhoads, “Technology Poses Big Test for Regimes”. Wall Street Journal. February 12, 2011.

[5] OpenNet Initiative. Web site at http://opennet.net.


11 Responses to “Middle East Internet Scorecard (February 12 – 20)”

February 21, 2011 at 4:14 pm, Libya Cuts Internet Access for Several Hours | African News said:

[…] temporally coincident with the onset of recent protests,” Arbor Networks wrote in a Sunday blog post. “Several Bahrain telecommunication companies blamed the slowdown on ‘overloaded […]

February 22, 2011 at 4:38 pm, Middle East Internet Scorecard | Lost in the Noise said:

[…] more info on: /blog/asert/2011/02/middle-east-internet-scorecard-february-12-%E2%80%93-20/ […]

February 22, 2011 at 5:17 pm, Libya’s Collateral Damage: Url Shorteners? | Extranet Factoring said:

[…] Network security specialists, Arbor Networks, has been monitoring Internet traffic in the Middle East during these recent weeks of unrest and is literally keeping score. […]

February 23, 2011 at 1:20 pm, Is using an .ly domain right – or wrong? | Precision Technology said:

[…] this handy Middle East Internet Scorecard for outages from February […]

February 25, 2011 at 11:24 am, Taking Credit Where It’s Due « Digital Frontiers said:

[…] unlike those two nations and others, it appears social networks are  playing little if any role in the pro-democracy […]

February 27, 2011 at 4:56 am, الشبكة العربية لمعلومات حقوق الإنسان » ليبيا تصف الصحفيين الأجانب Ø said:

[…] تواصلت الاعتداءات على خدمات الإنترنت في المنطقة. ففي ليبيا، تم تعليق ربط الإنترنت بالعالم الخارجي لفترات استمرت لعدة ساعات خلال عطلة نهاية الأسبوع. كما أن مستوى تدفق المعلومات الواردة والصادرة عبر الإنترنت بحسب ما سجله مراقبون خارج البلاد هو مستوى منخفض على نحو غير معتاد، مما يشير إلى أنه تم تقييد خدمات الإنترنت أو أنه تم قطع الخدمة عن مناطق معينة. كما انخفض مستوى تدفق المعلومات في اليمن في وقت مبكر من هذا الشهر، وهو ما فسرته شركة شبكات أربور المتخصصة بأمن شبكة الإنترنت بأنه قد يكون ناجماً عن تركيب وسائل تصفية إضافية. […]

March 01, 2011 at 4:00 am, Liberté, j’encrypte ton nom » Article » OWNI, Digital Journalism said:

[…] leurs dires, groupe de « hackers on steroïds »)1 a prouvé sa limite dans le cas d’une censure à grande échelle, des applications peu connues, destinées à un public réputé initié, sortent du […]

March 03, 2011 at 10:47 pm, Libya’s Collateral Damage: Url Shorteners? | Promo Management said:

[…] Network security specialists, Arbor Networks, has been monitoring Internet traffic in the Middle East during these recent weeks of unrest and is literally keeping score. […]

March 24, 2011 at 8:55 am, archives #1 [Liberté, j’encrypte ton nom.] « Eclecte said:

[…] genoux des sites gouvernementaux par déni de service – a prouvé sa limite dans le cas d’une censure à grande échelle, des applications peu connues, destinées à un public réputé initié, sortent du […]

April 26, 2011 at 4:08 am, Mobile Warfare « Il Blog di Paolo Passeri said:

[…] example and acting, in turn, as a powerful catalyzer for the movements. As an example, consider the following article, which in my opinion is particular meaningful: it shows the Middle East Internet Scorecard, that is […]

May 23, 2011 at 1:08 pm, في البحرين، حتى البرامج الأميركية تستخدم في المعركة -موقع المحافظه ا said:

[…] برامج أمريكية لحجب المواقع الإلكترونية. وقد أفاد  تقرير لشركة أربورنتوركس للأمن المعلوماتي(Arbor Networks) الأمريكية، بأن الحركة على شبكة الانترنت إنخفضت من […]

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