Internet taken down – or is something else to blame?


At first I was irritated when my download speed, normally at a respectable 300 KBp/s, dropped to a mere 9 KBp/s. Out of the blue. My friends and colleagues reported similar issues. SLT, Etisalat wireless, Dialog – it made no difference: somewhere up the line, something was happening.

In the midst of all this, news of the epic online CyberBunker vs Spamhaus fight emerged. In case you aren’t aware, Spamhaus is an international spam control group that maintains a series of black-and-white block lists. These lists are used by ISPs all over the globe to manage spam.

Spamhaus recently got into a heavyweight fight with CyberBunker, a Dutch hosting provider based (literally) in a Cold War bunker. Spamhaus blacklisted CyberBunker for aiding spammers; CyberBunker retaliated with a massive DDoS attack that hit Spamhaus with 300 gigabytes per second of data. It was the Internet’s largest recorded DDoS attack to date.


Naturally, people put two and two together and blamed the attacks for the slow Internet speeds. But the attacks weren’t to blame. 300 gigabytes per second was a lot of data – but not enough to slow down the entire internet. What happened was a case of western Europe slowing down a bit. The BBC, trying to access sites with slowed connections, incorrectly assumed that the rest of the world was affected. It wasn’t. The Internet Traffic report  shows no discernible fluxes globally.

But what actually may have slowed us down is real-world sabotage.

Egyptian authorities arrested three divers for unexplainably slicing the South East Asia-Middle East-West Europe 4 (SEA-ME-WE 4) underwater cable that runs from Singapore to France. This particular cable connects Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, UAE, Tunisia and Algeria to the world. It’s 20,000 Kms long and major Asian telecoms Tata, Bharati, ETISALAT, Singtel and Telecom Egypt are part owners of the cable. Any damage is havoc and pretty expensive to repair.

Now THAT’s what hit us.

That’s not all. SEA-ME-WE 3 has also been cut (Perth to Singapore). As a direct result of this damage, internet blackouts have plagued vast tracts of Asia, Australia, the Middle East and North Africa. Recent investigations show that as many as five underwater cables may have been sabotaged. Some question whether Iran has been entirely cut off from the Internet. The Internet Traffic Report shows no activity from the area and the main router appears to be offline.


So far there have been no further details. No names, suspects, or theories have been put forward by the authorities. Internet access is being restored. A lot of SLT infrastructure appears to be back, up and running again: and today my Etisalat connection went back to its usual decent speeds. Hopefully the cables are being restored: though this issue is one we’ll be keeping a very close eye on. The world’s internet is at stake.

Trivia: CyberBunker has apparently been a frequent target for law enforcement agencies because of its “anything except child porn and terrorism” policy. The (in)famous Pirate Bay is hosted by CyberBunker. The physical structure of the bunker is said to be able to survive both electromagnetic pulse bombs and nuclear attacks. 


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