Countries in Africa Started Internet Blackouts After Encrypted Messenger Use Increased
In December 2016, we reported several social network blackouts in Turkey. And not just social networks; the Turkish government blocked Tor and VPN use permanently. The social media blackout lasted only 12-hours, but the Tor ban is here to stay. Quartz Africa reported something similar; government-caused internet blackouts became the norm—not the one-off exception. The blackouts often landed during critical moments in a country’s political crisis. Some countries offer a simple “Internet curfew.” Regardless of the method censorship spreads, 2016 proved an unfortunate year for Internet users and civil rights advocates with similar interest.
Many of the blackouts—or shutdowns, curfews et al happened during moments such as election periods in Gabon. The same reasoning, QZ Africa said, applied to the blackouts in Ethiopia. In Algeria, the population lost internet to prevent students from cheating on quizzes during school hours. Countries across the entire continent, large or small, often implemented such measures. People from Gabon, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Algeria, Uganda, and Gambia lost internet routinely in 2016. Moreover, according to QZ Africa, more countries used the same tactic—not just the ones listed above.
Security researchers believed the blackout-tactic started after Internet use exponentially increased. More encrypted messenger apps started surfacing and consequently, the government’s ability to eavesdrop and spy on citizens declined. The researchers explained that these encrypted tools—like Signal and Tor—forced the government’s hand, so to speak. No longer able to intercept communications from an entire population, the only alternative involved flipping the “internet switch.”
“As more people use the internet and social media, they are also increasingly enjoying the freedom and opportunity these provide to organize themselves and advocate for what they want,” Deji Olukotun, senior manager for Access Now said. “In response, it seems governments are shutting down the net more often to stop this practice.”
Akin to many Turkish Internet Service Providers, authorities in Ethiopia implemented a vast array of tools to monitor and filter traffic. They additionally took steps to prevent free speech in a method nearly identical to Turkey’s latest movement. Ethiopian government officials implemented Deep Packet Inspection to block Tor and news outlets.
In Turkey, the ISPs implemented the DPI to disrupt Tor connections at the 10% mark. Some users, after several attempts, finally connected to the network. Once they made a successful connection, subsequent handshakes faced no difficulty. So users with cached connections ultimately bypassed the ban on Tor—this, too, may be the case for Tor bans in Ethiopia and other countries that implemented a Tor ban.