Wasn’t Egypt supposed to be one of the most stable countries in the Arab world and middle East? Apparently not! The Egyptian government’s decision to pull the plug on the country’s ISPs has left most of Egypt’s 80 million residents and businesses without Internet access for the last five days. Experts say the situation shows how vulnerable on-line communications still are today.
Several tech companies have been adversely effected. This morning, KCBS radio reported that Cisco Systems, HP, and Google have closed down their offices in Egypt and told employees to stay home and telecommute (to whom and to where?). Google was reportedly not able to locate its Middle East/Africa Head of Marketing, who was rumored to be sleeping on the streets of Cairo.
According to Andrew S. Ross of SF Gate,
“A little over two months ago, Cisco happily announced the installation of one of its Telepresence videoconferencing systems at Smart Village, a high-tech industrial park situated just outside Cairo. In addition to its ‘very promising’ IT and communications market, one of the competitive advantages the Middle East nation offered, according to Cisco, was ‘political stability.’ That was apparently an illusion. ‘Cisco has temporarily closed its Cairo offices due to the recent civil unrest,’ the company said in a statement sent to me on Monday. ‘The company is closely monitoring the situation, we continue to stay close to our Egyptian employees and we remain prepared to respond if needed to any impact to our employees, customers or business in Egypt'””
There are several important implications of Egypt’s Internet going dark. Here are a few:
- Outsourcing work to developing countries: which one’s are safe and how much work should be outsourced?
- Vulnerability of relying exclusively on IP VPNs accessed via the public Internet.
- Ensuring back up Internet access is in place- either via private lines or digital switched connections.
- Viability of cloud computing, especially Software as a Service (SaaS) for mission critical tasks.
- Enterprises and government agencies reverting back to private networks or Intranets that they directly control.
The key point to ponder is that the unpredictability of problems like this one in Egypt can seriously impact the security and availability of key support services as well as local business operations. Some areas that could be adversely effected include: IT storage/retrieval, finance and accounting, payroll, customer services (CRM), ERP, etc. If political protests and uprisings like the one’s in Egypt, Tunisia, and other oppressive Arab states proliferate to other countries with global outsourcing support services (e.g the Phillipines), the first reaction of governments may be to shut off the Internet or at least block Facebook and Twitter (which happened in 2009 after disputed election protests in Iran).
Meanwhile, Egypt’s Police Department data communications were unaffected by the Internet shutdown. That’s because they use a Fixed WiMAX based private network for communications between police stations and the Ministry of Interior. Please see this article which briefly describes that network as of Feb 19, 2009: