The Networks as Tool and Target at the same time

René Pfeiffer/ February 4, 2011/ Internet, Security

Unless you have been without access to the Internet, mobile network(s) and independent media you’ve probably followed the events in Egypt. The shutdown of the Internet throughout the country was an unprecedented move. It took some people by surprise, but anyone with a decent knowledge of routing protocols knew what was going on. There was no magic involved, just simply BGP packets. The aftermath of the still ongoing demonstrations and the show of force can already be seen.

  • The Internet is gaining relevance when it comes to infrastructure. It’s not as important as telephone networks or the power grid, but sooner or later it probably will (especially since phone and power grid services move to the Internet for messaging/transport purposes).
  • The lack of Internet connectivity was bypassed by telephone lines. Dial-up connections with modems connected to foreign ISPs were still possible. They same is true for any satellite Internet connection, but this is a lot more expensive and can’t be deployed as easily. There were even reports of users turning to Fidonet nodes. In any case, it’s always good to know about alternative technologies to transport information. Do you still run a fax service with an analog modem? We do. 🙂
  • If the government shuts down, no SLAs will be there to rescue you. Not everyone runs top crucial business operations, but those who do should keep this in mind when planning network structures.
  • The mobile networks played a more crucial role. They were disabled, too. In addition they were abused for distributing information centrally. The Vodafone network sent our text messages supporting president Mubarak. Essentially this is the hijacking of infrastructure. Furthermore it illustrates the dangers of 2G/3G networks where every network client blindly trusts the network and its operator(s). You could do much more than sending text messages if you recall the results of 2G/3G security research presented during the past DeepSec conferences.
  • We are not yet seeing sign of cyber warfare. So far actions have been limited to switching networks on or off (counting jamming as a switch). In this case there’s no need to deploy subtle attacks, highly engineered malware or other sophisticated digital demons. The demonstrations take place on the streets and follow conventional rules. Of course the struggle for influence and control can be seen in the networks, but this is not cyber warfare.

Nevertheless the conflict in Egypt illustrates the importance of a secured flow of information. Outside Egypt businesses and individuals rely on exchanging information, too. So there should be measures in place to protect your flow of information. It seems to be a bit academic when everything runs smoothly, but your security design will be put to the test when things go really wrong. It’s best to think about this kind of scenarios before they hit you by surprise. We’ve heard that some people run businesses in foreign countries. Maybe you are one of them (and maybe you are and do not know how your partners or suppliers are linked to resources abroad). Better find out fast.

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About René Pfeiffer

System administrator, lecturer, hacker, security consultant, technical writer and DeepSec organisation team member. Has done some particle physics, too. Prefers encrypted messages for the sake of admiring the mathematical algorithms at work.