Did the Assad regime just shut down Syrian online access again? For several hours on Thursday — beginning around 3 p.m. Eastern time, or 10 p.m. in Damascus — Internet traffic in the warring country ground to an almost complete halt, just like it did in November when the government blacked out web usage to stymy opposition maneuvers.
Following reports from analytics services, Google has confirmed that its services have been inaccessible since just before 3 p.m. Eastern. Just look at the complete Google drop-off starting at that time:
When the Internet disappeared for two whole days in the fall, the Syrian regime blamed "terrorists" for cutting underground cables and causing the outage. That scenario, as we explained at the time, is highly unlikely. And while Assad and his military apparatus haven't said anything about this latest outage, The Guardian made clear that November's shutdown "was seen as an attempt to stymie rebel moves as militias try to co-ordinate an assault on Damascus."
Obviously, things have been on edge in Syria these past few weeks, with reports of chemical weapons attacks and reported Israeli airstrikes reverberating around the world and fitting into Bashar al-Assad's plan. President Obama said on Tuesday that there are no "easy answers" for his next steps in the region, but after weeks of setbacks for opposition forces, there may at some point be an answer for this latest Internet outage: Assad wanted to cripple organizing capabilities for those looking to topple him.
Importantly, it's only the servers within Syria that aren't working, according to a blog post from Umbrella Security Labs, the research arm of internet security firm OpenDNS:
Currently both TLD (top-level domain) servers for Syria, ns1.tld.sy and ns2.tld.sy are unreachable. The remaining two nameservers sy.cctld.authdns.ripe.net. and pch.anycast.tld.sy. are reachable since they are not within Syria.
Umbrella Security Labs, however, cannot confirm the reason for tonight's darkness over Syria's Internet: "Although we can’t yet comment on what caused this outage, past incidents were linked to both government-ordered shutdowns and damage to the infrastructure, which included fiber cuts and power outages."