Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Friday, January 28, 2011

Many of my readers will know of my interest in Egypt.  I registered another domain just yesterday for Egyptopaedia our new Encyclopaedia of ancient Egypt (more work for the next few weeks!).  So today I have been following the breaking news from Egypt.  I was particularly concerned for the antiquities museum on Cairo (the Egyptian Museum) with the building next door on fire and the one next to that burnt out entirely.  The latest reports are that the protesters and army are united in their intend to safeguard it.  I would also like news out of Luxor, but there isn't any.

The Internet has been shut down.  Mobile phone networks have been turned off.  Even landlines seem to have been shut.  Technically though, how was it done?  Could it be done in the US for instance.  ZDnet thinks not, in a very good article by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols  who analyses who the Egyptian Government have turned the Internet off.  Essentially it seems they used two techniques, clearly planned in advance.  Firstly they killed the DNS nameservers - that's the bit which translates a domain name like into an IP address which tells computers where the hosting server is located.  By itself that wouldn't be terribly effective.  For instance my Vodafone mobile broadband has become unreliable and one probably seems to be the Vodafone DNS servers, so I now tend to use nameservers in the US instead.  Anybody in Egypt could do the same thing - or they could just type the relevant numbers into their browser.  So the Egyptian Government also shut down the main network backbone and its international connections so there is no web traffic between Egypt and the rest of the world.

The communications out of Egypt at the moment seem to be either high tech (via satellite) or rather low tech (amateur radio). 

It has had the effect of cutting off communications within Egypt as well.  That was in the intended effect.  Want to know if your daughter who is working in Cairo is safe?  You cannot contact here.  I agree with Vaughan-Nichols.  Cutting off communications so that people cannot find out whether their loved ones are safe is a certain way to antagonise the population.  Even the British Government has made that mistake, cutting mobile networks after terrorist incidents.  I think governments around the world are going to end up reassessing policies like that.  Now we all live with our mobiles and instant access with family and friends wherever they are, any Government which cuts that off just when we most want it is likely to face widespread popular wrath, whatever their reasons for doing so.