As protesters continue to clash with police in anti-government demonstrations, Egypt has pulled the plug on the Internet.
The cut-off happened just after midnight, local time, according to Internet monitoring firm Renesys, when the largest Internet Service Providers operating out of the country stopped providing the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) routing information used to connect the rest of the world with computers in the Egypt.
Egypt is experiencing its worst civil unrest in more than 30 years, as citizens have taken to the streets demanding an end to the government of President Hosni Mubarak. Protests are set to grow today, with demonstrations likely after Friday prayers.
Similar widespread outages have been blamed on cuts to undersea fibre optic cables, but that doesn't seem to be what happened this time around, said Paul Ferguson, a researcher with security firm Trend Micro. An outage on a cable would not just effect Egypt, it would cut off all of sub-Saharan Africa." he said. "This is apparently a deliberate blackout."
"The Egyptian government appears to have ordered service providers to shut down all international connections to the Internet," Renesys said. "Critical European-Asian fibre optic routes through Egypt appear to be unaffected for now. But every Egyptian provider, every business, bank, Internet cafe, website, school, embassy and government office that relied on the big four Egyptian ISPs for their Internet connectivity is now cut off from the rest of the world."
Those four large providers, Link Egypt, Vodafone/Raya, Telecom Egypt and Etisalat Misr, have dropped most of their Internet connectivity. Most Egyptian websites are now unreachable and people inside Egypt are largely unable to connect with the outside world using email, instant messaging or the web.
But Egypt's Internet isolation is not complete. One service provider, Noor Data Networks, the provider used by the Egyptian Stock Exchange, is unaffected.
About 88 percent of Egypt's networks have been cut off, according a blog entry on the website of network monitoring toolmaker, BGPmon. Another network monitoring company Arbor Network, has posted a graphic illustrating the dramatic cut-off in traffic to and from Egypt.
Some countries routinely block access to specific websites, but this is the first time that a country has voluntarily severed its own Internet connection.
"This is a completely different situation from the modest Internet manipulation that took place in Tunisia, where specific routes were blocked, or Iran, where the Internet stayed up in a rate-limited form designed to make Internet connectivity painfully slow. The Egyptian government's actions tonight have essentially wiped their country from the global map," Renesys said.
Earlier in the week, the Egyptian government had reportedly blocked access to Facebook and Twitter, but with large protests expected Friday, it has apparently taken new steps to prevent people from communicating. " In this case the government seems to be taking a shotgun approach by ordering ISP's to stop routing all networks," BGPmon said.