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Q4 2023 Internet disruption summary

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During previous quarters, we tracked a number of government directed Internet shutdowns in Iraq, intended to prevent cheating on academic exams. We expected to do so again during the fourth quarter, but there turned out to be no need to, as discussed below. While we didn’t see that set of expected shutdowns, we did observe a number of other Internet outages and disruptions due to a number of commonly seen causes, including fiber/cable issues, power outages, extreme weather, infrastructure maintenance, general technical problems, cyberattacks, and unfortunately, military action. As we have noted in the past, this post is intended as a summary overview of observed disruptions, and is not an exhaustive or complete list of issues that have occurred during the quarter.

Government directed

Iraq

In a slight departure from the usual subject of this blog post, this time we lead off with coverage of government directed Internet shutdowns that didn’t happen. Iraq has been a frequent subject of this series of posts, as they have historically implemented daily multi-hour Internet shutdowns during exam periods, intended to prevent cheating. Earlier this year, there was some hope that this practice might be ending, and in our Q2 2023 Internet disruption summary post, we noted “In the weeks prior to the start of this year’s shutdowns, it was reported that the Iraqi Ministry of Communications had announced it had refused a request from the Ministry of Education to impose an Internet shutdown during the exams as part of efforts to prevent cheating. Unfortunately, this refusal was short-lived, with shutdowns ultimately starting two weeks later.” In addition to these second quarter shutdowns, they also occurred during the third quarter across multiple weeks in July, August, and September.

During the fourth quarter, the third round of 12th grade high school final exams was scheduled to begin on November 13 and end on November 21, taking place at 13:00 local time, as shown in the schedule below, which was published on the Iraqi Ministry of Education’s Facebook page.

November 2023 exam schedule in Iraq

However, in looking at Internet traffic for Iraq during that period, it appears that the nationwide Internet shutdowns that would have normally taken place did not occur, as the graph shows a very consistent diurnal pattern with no evidence of disruptions to Internet connectivity like we have seen in the past. Additionally, other civil society groups, academic researchers, and Internet analysts that also monitor these shutdowns did not report seeing any related drops in traffic. It is unclear whether a request for shutdowns was submitted by the Ministry of Education and again refused by the Ministry of Communications, or if no request was ever submitted for this round of exams. Regardless, we hope that Iraq continues to keep the Internet connected during future rounds of exams.

Military action

Palestine

On Saturday, October 7, 2023, attacks from the Palestinian group Hamas launched from the Gaza Strip against the south of Israel started a new conflict in the region, with Israel officially declaring the next day that it was at war. This had an almost immediate impact on Internet traffic in both Israel and Palestine, with traffic in the former showing ~170% growth as compared to the prior week, and ~100% growth in the latter as compared to the previous week. These trends are discussed in our October 9 blog post, Internet traffic patterns in Israel and Palestine following the October 2023 attacks.

However, in the hours and days following the initial attacks, a number of Palestinian Internet providers saw traffic fall significantly, with many winding up largely or totally offline, potentially as a result of power outages caused by retaliatory Israeli airstrikes. Impacted networks included AS42314 (fusion), AS203905 (DCC_North_ASN), AS210974 (AjyalFI), AS60268 (DIGITAL-COMMUNICATION-PALESTINE-ASN), AS60353 (DCC_RAFAH_ASN), AS62027 (DCC_Khanyouns_ASN), AS57704 (SPEED-CLICK-LTD), AS199046 (JETNET), and AS213207 (TechHub-HiNet), as shown in the graphs below.

In addition to the outages illustrated above, throughout October, November, and December, Paltel (Palestine Telecommunications Company) posted a number of times on its official X account about disruptions to its landline, mobile, and Internet services, citing causes including fiber damage due to bombardment and fuel depletion. Posts were made on October 27, October 31, November 16, December 4, December 14, December 20, and December 26. The associated outages varied in length, some lasting for hours, while others lasted for multiple days — each outage is shaded in the graphs below, which show Paltel traffic within four Palestinian governorates in the Gaza Strip region.

Fiber/cable trouble

Namibia

On November 13, Telecom Namibia (AS36996) reported that it was experiencing interruptions to its fixed voice and data services in several areas, resulting from cable theft. The impact of these interruptions is shown in the figure below, with Internet traffic disrupted between 13:45 local time (11:45 UTC) on November 13 and 08:30 local time (06:30 UTC) on November 14. The disruption to connectivity due to cable theft was not an isolated incident, as the provider posted several additional notices on its social media accounts in November and December about similar occurrences.

Cuba

A day later, on November 14, ETECSA (AS27725) posted a notice about a terrestrial fiber cut that disrupted Internet services. As the state-owned telecommunications provider in Cuba, the cut impacted Internet traffic nationwide, as well as at a network level, as seen in the graphs below. The disruption was relatively short-lived, occurring between 06:30 - 08:15 local time (11:30 - 13:15 UTC), with a follow-up post announcing the re-establishment of Internet service.

Chad

On December 7 & 8, a near-complete outage observed in Chad was reportedly due to fiber optic cable cuts in neighboring countries. A published article cited SudaChad as claiming that the outage seen in the graphs below was due to an issue with CAMTEL, a Cameroonian partner. It also cites Moov Africa’s (formerly known as Millicom Chad) apology to customers, which points at “the fiber-optic cut in Cameroon and Sudan'' as the root cause. Since simultaneous cuts in fiber optic cables in Chad’s two neighboring countries would certainly be an unusual occurrence, it isn’t clear if such an event happened, though routing data for SudaChad shows that the network’s two upstream providers are AS15706 (Sudatel) in Sudan and AS15964 (CAMNET) in Cameroon. The three providers are also partners on the WE-AFRICA-NA terrestrial cable, which stretches from Port-Sudan on the Red Sea in Sudan to Kribi on the Atlantic Ocean in Cameroon via Chad, but it isn’t known whether that cable system was involved in this outage.

The disruption lasted approximately fourteen hours, from 20:00 local time on December 7 until 10:15 local time on December 8 (19:00 UTC on December 7 until 09:15 UTC on December 8), with the impact visible country-wide, as well as at SudaChad and several downstream network providers.

Cyberattacks

Ukraine

Ukrainian Internet provider Kyivstar announced on the morning of December 12 that they were the “target of a powerful hacker attack”. They noted that the attack caused a “technical failure” that resulted in mobile communication and Internet access becoming temporarily unavailable. Although Kyivstar has been targeted by around 500 cyberattacks since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, this was reportedly the largest attack to date. A subsequent report referenced an interview with Illia Vitiuk, the head of the cybersecurity department at Ukraine’s security service (SBU), in which he claimed that “the hackers attempted to penetrate Kyivstar in March 2023 or earlier, managed to get into the system at least as early as May, and likely gained full access to the network in November.

Recovery took several days, with Kyivstar posting on December 15 that “the Internet is everywhere” but warning that connection speeds might be slightly reduced. These posts align with the traffic disruption shown in the figure below, which lasted from 06:30 local time (04:30 UTC) on December 12 until 14:00 local time (12:00 UTC) on December 15.

Power outages

Brunei

A major power outage in Brunei on October 17 disrupted key services including mobile and fixed Internet connectivity. Starting around 11:30 local time (03:30 UTC), traffic was disrupted for approximately 13 hours, recovering to expected levels around just after midnight local time on October 18 (16:45 UTC). Two Unified National Networks autonomous systems (AS10094 and AS131467) saw lower traffic volumes during the power outage.

Kenya

A widespread power outage in Kenya on November 11 disrupted Internet connectivity across the county for approximately seven hours. An X post from Kenya Power at 20:30 local time (17:30 UTC) reported a partial power outage, stating “We have lost power supply to parts of the country. Our engineers are working to restore supply to the affected areas.” Kenya Power kept customers informed of progress, posting updates at 22:00, 23:57, and the morning of November 12, with the final update reporting “We have successfully restored normal power supply in all the areas that were affected by the partial outage.

Curaçao

On November 14, a Facebook post from Aqualectra, the water and power company in Curaçao, stated in part, “Around 14:00 this afternoon, a blackout occurred. Preliminary investigation indicates that one of the main cables responsible for transporting electricity between the substations at Nijlweg and Weis experienced a short circuit. It is important to emphasize that this is not due to a lack of production capacity.” The power outage resulted in a near complete loss of traffic at Flow Curaçao (AS52233), with significant disruptions also visible at United Telecommunication Services (AS11081) and at a country level, as seen in the graphs below. The disruption lasted eight hours, from 14:00 until 22:00 local time (18:00 UTC on November 14 until 02:00 UTC on November 15).

Sri Lanka

After stabilizing its electrical infrastructure in the wake of 2022’s problems with its electrical power grid, the failure of a main transmission line caused an island-wide power outage in Sri Lanka on December 9, in turn disrupting Internet connectivity. Traffic from the island nation initially dropped by around 50% starting around 16:45 local time (11:15 UTC). Repairs took several hours, with the country’s Internet traffic returning to expected levels around 01:00 local time on December 10 (19:30 UTC).

Panama

On the morning of December 24, Panamanian electric distribution company ENSA initially reported an event that affected electrical services to their customers. A subsequent report posted just 30 minutes later provided additional details, pointing to an incident in the “National Interconnected System” that affected the electrical supply in a number of areas, but within an hour, it had spread nationally. Although the initial regional power issues did not have a noticeable impact on Panama’s Internet traffic, the loss of traffic in the graph below aligns with the national growth of the power outage, occurring at 11:45 local time (16:45 UTC). Traffic returned to expected levels at around 15:00 local time (20:00 UTC), aligning with an X post from ENSA stating that “At 3:12pm the supply of electrical energy to all our clients has been normalized after an event at the Transmission level originating in the Panama 1 Substation of ETESA.

Weather

Ukraine

Internet disruptions in Ukraine due to the conflict there have been covered in multiple quarterly Internet disruption summary blog posts over the last two years. However, in November, connectivity in multiple areas of the country was disrupted by power outages caused by a major winter storm. Snow and high winds knocked out power to hundreds of towns and villages, damaging electrical power infrastructure. The impact is visible in the graphs below as a drop in traffic occurring around 01:00 local time on November 27 (23:00 UTC on November 26), observed in regions including Donetsk, Kherson Oblast, and Luhansk. Traffic appeared to return to expected levels early in the morning local time on November 28.

Mexico

On October 25, Hurricane Otis made landfall near Acapulco, a popular tourist destination in Mexico. In addition to catastrophic structural damage, it was reported that “more than 10,000 utility poles were destroyed, knocking out power and internet/communications across the region, while numerous transmission lines, electrical substations, and a power plant were also heavily damaged.” This damage to electrical and communications infrastructure in the area resulted in significant disruption to Internet connectivity. As shown in the graph below, Internet traffic from Acapulco dropped by around 80% as Otis made landfall. Traffic started to show some growth in early November, but peak volumes remained relatively consistent, and well below pre-hurricane levels, through the end of the year. (Several large spikes are visible on December 26 & 30, but it isn’t clear what those are associated with.) Although Acapulco’s tourism industry experienced a notable recovery heading into the end of the year, it appears that infrastructure recovery has not been quite as swift.

Fire

Hawaii

Last quarter, we reported on the impact of wildfires that started on August 7 in Hawaii, including killing nearly 100 people, as well as destroying homes, businesses, and infrastructure, causing power outages and disrupting Internet connectivity. One of the most impacted areas was the town of Lahaina, where Internet connectivity remained sparse for weeks after the fires began. Repair and restoration efforts continued throughout the fourth quarter, with traffic clearly growing throughout October, with peak levels in November and December approaching pre-fire levels.

Maintenance

Yemen

Two maintenance-related Internet disruptions impacted Internet connectivity in Yemen in the fourth quarter. The first lasted over four hours during the morning of November 10, from 03:10 - 07:45 local time (00:10 - 04:45 UTC), and followed two other disruptions the prior day. The impact was visible at a country level, as well as at a network level on PTC-YemenNet (AS30873).

An Associated Press article noted that in a statement to the state news agency, Yemen’s Public Telecom Corp. (PTC-YemenNet) blamed the outage on maintenance, apparently of the FALCON submarine cable. The article also cited a statement from GCX, the operator of the FALCON cable, regarding scheduled maintenance to the cable system that had been in planning for the previous three months.