How Can a Country Disconnect Itself From the Internet?
I'm Alex Villarreal with the VOA Special English Technology Report, from voaspecialenglish.com | facebook.com/voalearningenglish In January, a five-day Internet shutdown in Egypt failed to stop the protests that forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign. But it raised a technical question. Just how were Egyptian officials able to shut down Internet service in their country?Craig Labovitz is chief scientist at Arbor Networks, an Internet security company in the American state of Michigan. Mr. Labovitz says the Internet is not as indestructible as people might think. He says there are points where the flow of computer traffic can be restricted. Mr. Labovitz says his researchers tracked the Internet shutdown in Egypt as it was being carried out. He explains that in Egypt, Internet users connect to the outside world through a small number of providers with international links. He said there are a hundred or more providers within the country -- domestic providers. But there really are only four providers that have links to the external world. And there are an even smaller number of data centers where the fiber optics cross Egypt. So only a handful of machines need to be shut down to have this kind of disruption.News reports suggested that the fiber optic links for those networks are all housed in the same building. Could a similar Internet shutdown take place in the United States? Craig Labovitz says that is less of a possibility because of a larger number of Internet providers and data centers. Still, the recent shutdown in Egypt has raised new concerns about a proposal in the United States Congress. Critics say the legislation could make similar action possible in America. The measure is known as the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act. Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut first proposed the bill last June. Supporters say it would help protect the country's economic and national security from cyber attack. It would give the president the emergency power to shut down or seize parts of the nation's Internet in the event of a major threat. Critics say the bill would give the president too much power. Some people call it the "Kill Switch Bill" -- an easy way to shut off the Internet. They say the government could use it to censor the Web and control the flow of information. For VOA Special English I'm Alex Villarreal. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our reports are at voaspecialenglish.com. And we're on Facebook at VOA Learning English. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 21Feb2011)