Lessons in Communications and Reliability Learned from Egypt

You may have already heard about what has been happening in Egypt. If not, the Arab media source Al Jazeera has a dedicated page on the topic. You can watch a live Twitter stream from Twitterfall.

As a part of what is happening in Egypt, Internet access in the country was disrupted and blocked, and cell phone service was halted. In particular, DNS servers were shut down or blocked, and web sites such as Facebook and Twitter were blocked completely. The majority of Egyptian ISPs shut down as well, effectively removing all access to the Internet to Egyptian citizens.

Here are some of the resolutions to these problems that Egyptians found:

  • Broadcast access to Internet via open wireless access points. With wireless access points set up, only one person needs to set up the Internet in order for dozens to receive it. At least one ISP in Egypt remained up (due to government and bank usage) – providing an open hot spot expanded
  • Use gateways and proxies to reach forbidden web sites. Routing traffic to other sites – sites that aren’t blocked – permits access to the blocked sites. This is a form of “forced routing” that goes around censorship.
  • Use alternate DNS servers or IP addresses or both. There are public DNS servers available to all such as Google and OpenDNS; if DNS is down one can switch to these if you know how – and use IP addresses if you don’t.
  • Use out-of-country dialup services. Several ISPs gave out public access to their dialup services for Egyptian citizens to reach the outside.
  • Use non-internet-based methods of communication. In Egypt, there were printed leaflets, as well as amateur radio. When communication via the Internet is out, there are alternatives.

There is a web page that details all the possibilities for getting communication out of Egypt.

If you can handle a man-made disaster – such as the cutoff of Egypt from the Internet, or the dismantling of the Wikileaks technical structure – then natural disasters seem pale by comparison.

We’ll pray for safety and recovery in Egypt.