How Did Belarus Shut Down The Internet ?

The Belarus government has been shutting down access to most of the Internet during a crucial election by using equipment manufactured by a US company to block people's access to thousands of websites.  In early August, Belarus, went almost entirely offline for 72 hours. This was is in response to the peaceful, countrywide protests, according to Human Rights Watch  

Sandvine is a leader in the field of Network Intelligence who offer technogly solutions which  "make networks more efficient, enable service differentiation, rationalize disparate data" which it is claimed are being used by the Belarus government to shut down the country's internet.  Sandvine lists Velkom, a Belarus fixed and mobile network opertaor amongst its customers. 

In soliciting bids for new technology in 2018, the Belarus government said it needed help with “countering violations” associated with Internet activity. But the real potency of the technology it obtained didn’t become clear until recently, when large parts of the Internet inside Belarus went dark during one of the most consequential elections in nearly 30 years.

As voters went to the polls on Aug. 9 to pass judgment on the country’s authoritarian leader, President Alexander Lukashenko, social media websites like Twitter and Facebook suddenly became inaccessible, and news sources from outside the country were blocked.

Protesters soon found ways around the blockage, using their own anti-censorship technology.

Belarusian authorities said the disruption was caused by a massive cyber-attack, but cyber security experts and data rights groups say that a technical analysis of Internet activity in the country points to the government. Among its capabilities is blocking traffic to specific websites, which the government started doing on the morning of the election, according to the cyber security experts and rights groups.  Large areas of the Internet were shut down for at least three days.

People inside the country lost access to thousands of websites, including Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and American and British news websites such as CNN.com and BBC.co.uk, according to Alp Toker, chief executive officer of the civil society group NetBlocks, which monitors the internet.

Cellphone app stores, as well as popular messaging apps, including WhatsApp, Telegram, and Viber, were also affected.

In 2006, the US government placed sanctions on the Belarusian government and prohibited US companies from providing funds, goods or services "for the benefit" of Lukashenko or others engaged in "actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions," according to Erich Ferrari, a Washington, DC-based US sanctions expert.

Nnedinma Ifudu Nweke, an attorney who specialises in US economic sanctions and trade embargoes at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, said that a US company selling technology that enables the Belarusian government to censor the internet could be viewed as a violation, even if the technology is provided indirectly through a third party.

Yahoo:        Global Voices:     Gizmodo:     Human Rights Watch

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