Libya Goes Dark Again Even While Internet Servers Continue Running

Libya shut down Internet access again on March 3, but it's using a new technique to throttle down network traffic even though it appears the nation's Web servers are still technically up and running.

Libya lost Internet connectivity again on March 3, according to multiple traffic monitors.

Search queries to Google and YouTube traffic both flat-lined starting about 11 a.m. Eastern time, or 7 p.m. Libya time on March 3, and this has continued since, according to the Google Transparency Report. Interestingly, there had been a dramatic increase in YouTube traffic in the days just before the cut-off.

Traffic monitoring firm Renesys started receiving reports March. 4 that Libyans in Tripoli were unable to use the Internet, but saw nothing unusual in the BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) routing table, wrote James Cowie, the chief technology officer of Renesys, on the company's blog tracking Libya's outage. "All Libyan routes up and stable," he wrote.

However, trace routes indicated there was no data-packet traffic flowing on the otherwise open routes. Renesys tried several Web sites known to be hosted in Libya, including government Web sites, and got no response, Cowie said.

"It's like a post-apocalyptic scenario where the roads are there, there just isn't any traffic," Cowie told the International Business Times.

Libya went dark on Feb. 19 and Feb. 20 for about seven hours each day in a regular pattern that implied a curfew rather than a total blackout. Like the Egypt shutdown, Libyan ISPs just turned off their servers to prevent people from going online. The current shutdown is different because servers are up and responding to "ping" requests, said Cowie.

Instead, Libyan telecommunications operators appear to be throttling down the network bandwidth to restrict traffic, much in the same way the ISP would cut off users when they exceeded their monthly data limit, Cowie said.

"Every time I think that someone has a way to shut down the Internet they come up with a new way," Cowie told IBT.

The chairman of Libya Telecom & Technology, the country's leading ISP, is none other than Muhammad Gadhafi, the eldest son of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

The current outage follows weeks of reduced traffic volumes, according Arbor Networks, which monitors global Internet traffic using data from more than 100 ISPs in its ATLAS network.

While shutting down servers and withdrawing the BGP routes is basically hitting an Internet kill switch, Libya's latest technique is more analogous to a strong firewall rule. Even though most of the population can't get online, the technique theoretically allows some systems and users, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, for example, to continue using the Internet.

During the Egyptian shutdown, Google enabled a "speak to tweet" service that allowed users to call a phone number that would appear on Twitter. There has been no such service announced for Libya. It may not be as effective, as mobile phones have been working sporadically for at least a week, according to Al-Jazeera.

As before, there are a number of alternatives being shared on Twitter for Libyans to get online, such as a free dial-up account provided by organizations in Europe. XS4ALL, a "hacker-friendly" Internet service provider based in the Netherlands, opened up its modem lines for free during the previous curfew, but there had been no activity from Libya on the account, XS4ALL's Niels Huijbregts told eWEEK.