Rebels Smash Holes in Libya's Internet Firewall

As anti-Qadaffi rebels gain the upper hand in the Libyan Civil War, opposition forces are managing to gain control of the Internet. Although Fast Company previously reported on Libya's attempts to block access to the Internet, ingenious activists are punching holes in the blockade.

At press time, access to social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube is still blocked in Tripoli. However, other cities--both those in the liberated east and within Qadaffi-controlled areas--are managing to gain unfettered, free access to the Internet.

Security expert Craig Labovitz of Arbor Networks detected a sharp surge in Libyan Internet traffic (graphic above) that he attributed to cracks in the Libyan firewall:

In what may be an indicator of the rapidly evolving political situation within Libya, Internet traffic in and out of the country climbed over the weekend.

Previously, Internet traffic volumes had been operating at 60-80% of normal as the Libyan government reportedly blocked social media and popular video sites after the start of the popular uprising on February 18th.

[...] Most Libya Internet traffic flows through the state telecom (LTT / AS21003) and then transits out of the country via three main European / Asian providers. The AS21003 network likely includes multiple datacenters and routers in several different Libyan major cities including Benghazi.

Data analytics posted by Google also confirm Labovitz's theory that rebels have managed to gain free internet access.

With heavy web censorship still extant in Tripoli, the nation's largest city, rebels have turned to alternate methods to access social media.

The Los Angeles Times has documented an informal network of information smugglers who sneak citizen-generated mobile phone video of attacks and important events to sympathetic Egyptians and Libyan expatriates who post them online. Many Egyptians have assisted in uploading smuggled footage of attacks, battles and riots from Libya onto YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

A new site called Alive in Libya is crowdsourcing translations of Twitter messages, Facebook posts and YouTube videos smuggled out of Libya. Alive in Libya is a project of the Philadelphia-based documentary filmmaker company Small World News. Although based in Pennsylvania, New Scientist discovered they are playing an outsize role in getting information out of Libya:

The oasis town of Al Khufrah lies deep in the Sahara desert in the far south-east of Libya. Lying almost 1000 kilometres from its nearest sizeable neighbour, it is not somewhere foreign journalists tend to visit. But on 23 February, news from the town reached the English-speaking world. "Greetings this is an urgent message from Kufra," said the anonymous source. "Young people have taken complete control of the city, they hoisted the flag of Libya and Gaddafi down the flag."
The message arrived by an ingenious route. It started with a voice message in Arabic left on a phone line operated by Google. Software managing the line published the message on Twitter, from where it was picked up by the website Alive in Libya. The tweet went out to Alive's army of volunteers, who provided an English translation for the site.

Other crowdsourced translation sites, such as the popular Meedan, are also playing an important role in smuggling information out of Libya.

[Image via Craig Labovitz]

For more stories like this, follow @fastcompany on Twitter. Email Neal Ungerleider, the author of this article, here.

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2 Comments

  • Andrew Krause

    That would be a bad idea. I wouldn't want someone dropping bombs on my country just to free me from Obama. We can support the rise of freedom in Libya better by means other than our military might.

    ... though... if a 2000 lb JDAM did happen to fall off one of our F/A-18's and just happen to land on Qadaffi... I'm sure few people would raise a stink outside of his own family.