Tag Archives: United States Department of Homeland Security

Egyptian Government Has Internet Kill Switch

While the US, and most likely three or four countries more,  are racing to develop a so-called “kill switch” that can turn off the whole internet instantly, it seems like the Egyptian government already have one in place. According to a report by Department of Homeland Security’s Infosec Technology Transition Council, obtained by Wired.com, the Egyptian government shut down most of its country’s internet not by phoning ISPs one at a time, but by simply throwing a switch in a crucial data center in Cairo.

“Most of the outage was effected through a breaker flipped in the Ramses exchange, and the rest was phone calls and arm-twisting.”

Department of Homeland Security

The Ramses exchange refers to a central building in Cairo where Egyptian ISPs meet to trade traffic and connect outside of the country, a facility known as an internet exchange point. The report’s timeline also contradicts many observers’ guesses that a smaller internet provider called Noor escaped the initial shutdown because it provided connectivity to Egypt’s stock market and several government agencies.

The author of the report,  Bill Woodcock, an expert on internet security and infrastructure — especially connection hubs in developing countries — did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the document, wired.com writes.

Most media, including Wired.com, reported that government officials contacted individual ISPs and told them to shut down their networks, under threat of losing their communications licenses.

But the document (embedded below) contradicts that narrative, providing new details on the outage — largely laying the blame on Egypt’s internal security service, while describing the “flip-the-switch” shutdown as a “politically liberal” choice by the Egyptian communications ministry.

That’s because turning off the internet at the center exchange made it very easy to switch it back on, prevented surveillance, made it clear to everyone what had happened, and prevented spyware from being placed on the networks.

Compare that to Tunisia, where Facebook login pages were manipulated — presumably by the government — to grab the passwords of Tunisian activists in order to delete their accounts and protest pages.

The presentation suggests the week-long shutdown had severe effects on Egypt’s economy, in the short term from loss of commerce, and in the long term from a likely plummet in tourism, and an exodus of call centers from Egypt.

The presentation concludes that the ministry’s course of action in obeying the orders may have some positive effects in the future:

“Itʼs unlikely that Egyptʼs communications ministry will ever be asked to flip that switch again.”

Big Brother Barack

The resurgence of the so-called “kill switch” legislation happened on the same day Egyptians faced an internet blackout designed to counter massive demonstrations in that country.

The bill, which has bipartisan support, is being floated by Sen. Susan Collins, the Republican ranking member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The proposed legislation, which Collins says would not give the president the same power Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak is exercising to quell dissent, sailed through the Homeland Security Committee in December but expired with the new Congress weeks later.

The bill is designed to protect against “significant” cyber threats before they cause damage, Collins says.

“My legislation would provide a mechanism for the government to work with the private sector in the event of a true cyber emergency,” Collins says.

“It would give our nation the best tools available to swiftly respond to a significant threat.”

The timing of when the legislation would be re-introduced was not immediately clear, as kinks to it are being worked out.

An aide to the Homeland Security committee described the bill as one that does not mandate the shuttering of the entire internet. Instead, it would authorize the president to demand turning off access to so-called “critical infrastructure” where necessary.

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Filed under International Econnomic Politics, Laws and Regulations, Technology