As the violence escalated in Libya, following the mass wave of demonstrations that has swept the Middle East region in the past few weeks, the government took the all-predictable step of restricting access to the Internet.
As protesters called for an end to dictatorial rule, Col. Moammar Gadhafi's government seems to be issuing an "Internet curfew," cutting the country off late at night and resuming services shortly after dawn, instead of a complete shutdown, according to traffic monitoring data.
Bit.ly users don't have to worry about their favorite URL shortener, since the service is expected to remain unaffected, Bit.ly CEO John Borthwick wrote on Quora, a Q&A site.
"Should Libya block Internet traffic, as Egypt did, it will not affect http://bit.ly or any .ly domain," he wrote.
For .ly domains to be unresolvable, all five .ly root servers have to be offline, or replying with empty responses, Borthwick wrote. Of the five, only two are in Libya. Another two are based in Oregon while the fifth one is in the Netherlands, he said.
However, Kim Davies, a Los Angeles-based engineer who works on Internet governance and core infrastructure, followed up Borthwick's posting on Feb. 19, pointing out that it is a "sense of false confidence" to say that country-code domains are "impervious" to government-mandated shutdowns. The domains will keep running, but the authoritative servers rely on regular updates from the .ly registry inside Libya, Davies wrote. If the servers can't get regular updates, they will consider the data "stale" and stop providing information, which will cause the sites to become inaccessible, according to Davies.
The maximum time for registry updates is configured for 28 days, but some domains may have a shorter expiration date, requiring more frequent updates. If the servers can't communicate with the registry in a timely manner, those domains will eventually be "compromised," Davies said.
Another site, page.ly, will be unaffected because the service "does not utilize the page.ly domain at all," wrote Joshua Strebel, founder of page.ly, on Feb. 21. The "only possible effect is on our own website branding/position," he wrote.
Whether that will happen is unclear at this point, as Internet service keeps going up and down in Libya. Renesys reported that 13 globally routed Libyan network prefixes were withdrawn early Saturday morning, local time. The routers came back online nine hours later, and full connectivity was restored, Renesys said. The Internet shut down again for nine hours early Sunday, suggesting an "Internet curfew," Renesys said. Data from Arbor Networks' ATLAS service corroborated Renesys' data.
It appears that most of Internet service is locked down, or heavily restricted, from about 1 a.m. to 8 a.m. local time, according to monitoring data. The Google Transparency Report provides information about traffic to Google services such as News, Gmail, Blogger and Search. The tool shows regular cycles of no activity from Libya in the early hours of Feb. 19 and Feb. 20, and sharp dips on Feb. 21 and Feb. 22. Traffic levels appear to have been severely reduced beginning Feb. 17.
YouTube has been nearly inaccessible since early Feb. 17, according to the Transparency Report. The Al-Jazeera news service has reported that its site is still unavailable from within the country.
It's still unclear as to why the Libyan government has decided to confine the blackout to only a few hours each night. There is some speculation that the regime is trying to avoid the international outcry or economic loss Egypt faced for its nine-day shutdown earlier this month.
As in Egypt, a number of workarounds have emerged on Twitter, with information on getting online in Libya despite the blackout. There are a number of Twitter posts claiming that XS4ALL, a "hacker-friendly" Internet service provider based in the Netherlands, is offering all its modem lines for free to Libyans, with a phone number (international call), username and password.
However, eWEEK could not confirm the information on either XS4ALL's Website or on its Twitter feed. XS4ALL has not confirmed the validity of the phone number.
Other Twitter messages provide IP addresses for getting onto Facebook, Twitter and Google.
Libya's Internet and mobile services are tightly controlled by the state, as Libya Telecom & Technology's chairman is Muhammad Gadhafi, the eldest son of Col. Gadhafi.
Gadhafi has controlled Libya for more than 40 years, since 1969. This is longer than both Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak, who resigned after demonstrations called for an end to their rule.