This post is also available in 简体中文, 繁體中文, 日本語, 한국어, Deutsch, Français and Español.

Q3 2023 Internet disruption summary

Cloudflare operates in more than 300 cities in over 100 countries, where we interconnect with over 12,500 network providers in order to provide a broad range of services to millions of customers. The breadth of both our network and our customer base provides us with a unique perspective on Internet resilience, enabling us to observe the impact of Internet disruptions.

We have been publishing these summaries since the first quarter of 2022, and over that time, the charts on Cloudflare Radar have evolved. Many of the traffic graphs in early editions of this summary were screenshots from the relevant traffic pages on Radar. Late last year, we launched the ability to download graphs, and earlier this year, to embed dynamic graphs, and these summaries have taken advantage of those capabilities where possible. Sharp-eyed readers may notice an additional evolution in some of the graphs below: yellow highlighting indicating an observed “traffic anomaly”. Identification of such anomalies, along with the ability to be notified about them, as well as a timeline enhancement (embedded below) to the Cloudflare Radar Outage Center, were launched as part of Birthday Week at the end of September. More information on these new features can be found in our announcement blog post.

As we have seen in previous quarters, Iraq pursued an aggressive plan of government-directed Internet shutdowns intended to prevent cheating on exams, and several other African countries implemented politically motivated shutdowns. Damage to several submarine cables, as well as planned maintenance to others, caused Internet disruptions across a number of countries during the third quarter. Natural disasters, including wildfires and an earthquake, caused issues with connectivity, as did power outages in multiple countries. An acknowledged cyberattack resulted in a major US university intentionally disconnecting from the Internet, while a number of other major Internet providers acknowledged problems on their networks without ever disclosing the root cause of those problems.

(Note that the Internet disruptions related to the Israel/Palestine conflict are not covered in this post, as they began on October 7 in Q4 of 2023. Disruptions related to this conflict are being tracked, with additional insights found on the Cloudflare blog and @CloudflareRadar on X/Twitter.)

Government directed

Because the Internet has become a critical communications tool, Internet shutdowns are often used by governments as a means of controlling communication both within a country and with the outside world. These government-directed shutdowns are imposed for a variety of reasons, including during periods of civil unrest and protests around elections, and as a deterrent against cheating during exams.

Iraq

As we have discussed in past summaries, Internet shutdowns are used by some governments in an attempt to prevent cheating on national high school or baccalaureate exams. These shutdowns have a nationwide impact, and it isn’t clear whether they are ultimately successful at mitigating cheating. As we have also discussed in the past, such shutdowns frequently occur in Iraq, and that was certainly the case during the third quarter, with rounds of shutdowns occurring during all three months.

The first round of exam-related Internet shutdowns during the quarter in Iraq was a continuation of a set that started in June, and continued on into July, targeting cheating on 9th and 12th grade exams. On ten days between July 4 and July 17, Internet connectivity was shut down on AS203214 (HulumTele), AS59588 (ZAINAS-IQ), AS199739 (Earthlink), AS203735 (Capacities-LTD), AS51684 (ASIACELL), and AS58322 (Halasat) in Iraq (except for the Kurdistan Region) between 04:00 - 08:00 local time (01:00 - 05:00 UTC).

During the second week of August, several networks in the Kurdistan region of Iraq again implemented daily exam-related Internet shutdowns due to a second round of exams for 12th grade students. These shutdowns took place between 06:00 - 08:00 local time (03:00 - 05:00 UTC), and impacted AS21277 (Newroz Telecom), AS48492 (IQ-Online), and AS59625 (KorekTel) from August 6-13. These two hour shutdowns were similar to those seen in the region in June.

A second round of 9th grade exams in August drove a week of Internet shutdowns across Iraq (except the Kurdistan region) between August 21 and August 29. Connectivity was shut down between 04:00 - 08:00 local time (01:00 - 05:00 UTC) across the same networks impacted by the shutdowns implemented in July.

Following the second round of 9th grade exams in August, the second round of 12th grade exams in Iraq (except the Kurdistan region) occurred in September, and with these exams, came yet another round of Internet shutdowns. Impacting the same set of network providers as the previous two months, these shutdowns occurred between September 17-30. However, while they started at the same time (04:00 local time, 01:00 UTC), they were shorter than previous rounds, ending an hour earlier (07:00 local time, 04:00 UTC).

Senegal

On July 31, following the arrest of the Senegalese opposition leader, the Senegalese Ministry of Communication, Telecommunications and the Digital Economy once again ordered the disconnection of mobile Internet connectivity in Senegal as shown in the communiqué below. These disruptions to mobile Internet access were visible on two of the four network providers within the country: AS37196 (Sudatel Senegal) and AS37649 (Tigo/Free).

As shown in the graphs below, the shutdowns began mid-morning local time, generally between 08:00 and 10:00, from July 31 through August 5, and ended early the next morning, generally between midnight and 02:00. The final shutdown on August 5 was an exception, ending at 22:00 local time on both networks. (Senegal is UTC+0, so the local times are the same as UTC.)

Ethiopia

Following days of clashes between the federal military and local militia, mobile Internet connectivity was shut down in Amhara, Ethiopia. Cloudflare saw traffic to the region drop around 21:00 local time (18:00 UTC) on August 2. This is the second time that authorities have shut down mobile Internet connectivity in Amhara in 2023 — the first time was on April 6 after protests broke out following the federal government’s move to disband regional security forces. (Note that the country is no stranger to Internet shutdowns, as they have taken such action multiple times over the last several years.) Despite calls to restore connectivity, mobile Internet remained unavailable through the end of the third quarter, as seen in the figure below.

Gabon

On August 26, following contentious presidential elections in Gabon, Internet connectivity was shut down in order to "prevent the spread of calls for violence". As shown in the figure below, traffic began to fall just before 17:00 local time (16:00 UTC), and remained at zero through approximately 07:30 local time (06:30 UTC) on August 30. Connectivity was restored hours after military officers seized power in the country, placing President Ali Bongo under house arrest and naming a new leader after the country’s election body announced Bongo had won a third term.

Cable cuts

Cameroon

On July 7, an X/Twitter post from Cameroon Telecommunications alerted subscribers to disruptions to voice and data services, with a subsequent post nearly six hours later noting that services had been re-established. Although these posts did not provide details on the cause of the disruption, a Facebook post from the operator included an attached communiqué explaining that “The optical fibre has been severed by road maintenance operations, causing major disruptions in the delivery of our services.” The figure below shows the impact of this fiber damage, with traffic from AS15964 (CAMNET-AS) dropping sharply around 11:30 local time (10:30 UTC), and returning to expected levels by 18:00 local time (17:00 UTC).

Liberia

Damage to the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine cable disrupted Internet connectivity in Liberia on July 28. A Facebook post from the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) noted “The Liberia Telecommunications Authority(LTA) announces the temporary interruption of all nationwide Internet services due to the breakdown of the Africa Coast to Europe Cable in Ivory Coast.” and also highlighted that the ACE cable serves as the “sole source of internet connectivity between Europe and Liberia”. The figure below shows a near complete loss of traffic starting at 13:00 local time (13:00 UTC) and gradually recovering over the next several hours, returning to expected levels by 17:00 local time (17:00 UTC).

Togo, Benin, Namibia, and the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville)

On August 6, the West African Cable System (WACS) and the South Atlantic 3 (SAT–3) undersea cables were damaged by an undersea landslide in the Congo Canyon, located at the mouth of the Congo River. The damage to the cables impacted Internet connectivity in Togo, Benin, Namibia, and the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville). Social media posts from Telecom Namibia and Canalbox Congo alerted subscribers that connectivity would be impacted as a result of the damage to the cables.

Cable repair ship CS Leon Thevenin was called upon to perform repairs, but it took several weeks for it to arrive at the site of the damage, and then additional time to perform the repairs, which were reportedly completed on September 6. Network operators in impacted countries were able to shift some traffic to alternate cables, such as Google’s Equiano cable, which went live in February 2023.

As such, the graphs below illustrate that there was not a complete loss of traffic for impacted countries. To that end, traffic in Togo appeared to recover several weeks before the cable repairs were completed. The full impact is harder to see in the graphs for Benin, Namibia, and the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) because the selected timeframe is long enough to force data aggregation at a daily level, but it is clearly visible in graphs covering shorter periods of time (with data aggregation at an hourly level) during the weeks after the cable cut occurred.

South Sudan

Highlighting the interconnected nature of the Internet, fiber cuts in Uganda caused a brief Internet disruption for customers on MTN South Sudan (AS37594) on August 14, occurring between 13:00 - 15:00 local time (11:00 - 13:00 UTC), and impacting an estimated 438,000 users. An X/Twitter post from the provider that afternoon told subscribers “We sincerely apologize for the network issues experienced over the last couple of hours. It was due to multiple fiber cuts in Uganda.

Cyberattack

University of Michigan

On August 27, a “significant security concern” led the University of Michigan to shut down the Internet on the Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses. Although the shutdown occurred at the start of the new school year, classes continued as scheduled, but an announcement posted by the University detailed the impact of disconnecting from the Internet, including potential delays in financial aid refunds and the unavailability of certain campus systems. The impact of the disconnection can be seen in the figure below, appearing as a significant drop in traffic starting just before 14:00 local time (18:00 UTC) on August 27, and lasting until just after 08:00 local time (12:00 UTC) on August 30 on AS36375 (UMICH-AS-5), the primary autonomous system used by the University of Michigan.

Fire

Lahaina, Hawaii

In early August, a series of wildfires broke out in the state of Hawaii, predominantly on the island of Maui. The town of