Sudan was abruptly cut off from the internet on Wednesday afternoon following riots that erupted in the capital Khartoum over the government’s decision to end subsidies on fuel. Saudi Arabian news agency Al-Arabiya reported that the the nation’s web connection was almost certainly cut by the local authorities, most likely to prevent rioters from organizing themselves via social media. This theory was later backed up by the internet monitoring firm Renesys, which said in a blog post that the outage was almost certainly deliberate.
“Our plots of connectivity clearly show that Sudatel and Zain experienced identical outage timelines, while Canar’s total blackout followed a somewhat different schedule,” wrote Doug Madory.
“This difference in timing implies that this event was not caused by a single catastrophic technical failure, but strongly suggests a coordinated action to remove Sudan from the Internet.”
Renesys noted that Sudan’s internet connectivity dipped sharply at 1030 UTC, before falling off the precipice completely just before 1300 UTC. The reports were later confirmed by Arbor Networks, another internet monitoring company that witnessed the same dip-and-drop in web traffic to the country, before service was slowly restored later in the day. According to Renesys, the various web connections in Sudan came back online at separate times, adding further weight to its belief that the outage was “coordinated” rather than a “single catastrophic failure”.
Rising Incidence of Disconnected Warfare
In this day and age, cutting off access to the internet is like slamming the door shut on a country, cutting off its population from the world and effectively throwing communications and news back into the 1980s, when faxes and long distance phone calls were the norm. It used to be that this kind of incident was extremely rare, but in the wake of the Arab Spring uprising we’ve seen a number of questionable Middle Eastern regimes hit the kill switch on their citizen’s communications in times of civil unrest. The first to adopt the tactic was Egypt, when then-President Hosni Mubarak ordered the internet cut off in order to try and prevent the organization of protests demanding his removal. Just weeks later, Libya suffered a six-month blackout from February to August 2011, once again imposed by its government as it sought to pacify the uprising there. We’ve also seen a number of blackouts in Syria amidst the ongoing civil war there, with the government there killing access on more than one occasion during what’s believed to be strategically important military operations.
Wednesday’s riots were triggered by an announcement that the government would soon be ending its subsidies on fuel, reports the Associated Press. The cuts were made following the split of South Sudan into an independent state back in 2011, which encompasses much of the oil-producing regions of Sudan. AP reports that Sudan was ordered to cut subsidies by the International Monetary Fund, as these consume around 75% of its total tax revenues.