Bloomberg: Who Is Responsible for Blocking the Internet in Belarus?
The Belarusian Government almost completely shut down the Internet during the elections with the help of an American company’s equipment. This information was shared by two anonymous sources, as reported by Bloomberg.
Recently, we’ve talked about the internet blackout in Belarus. It was primarily due to the wave of protests that swept through the country after the presidential election.
The Belarusian authorities disrupted the internet throughout the country during the presidential election. Bloomberg confirmed this fact. According to its anonymous experts, equipment developed by Sandvine Incorporated was used for this purpose.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus and Sandvine haven’t commented on using such equipment and reject this investigation.
What was used to block the Internet?
We are talking about deep packet inspection (DPI) technology produced by Sandvine, an American company.
Deep packet inspection is a technology for checking and filtering network packets by their content. Unlike traditional firewalls, DPI analyzes packet headers and the full content of each packet at the application layer. DPI can detect and block malware and filter information that does not meet the specified criteria.
In 2018, the Russian company Jet Infosystems sold Sandvine equipment to the Belarusian authorities under a $2.5 million contract. Their application for the purchase of equipment stated that they needed it to help combat online activity violations.
Sandvine’s hardware can block traffic on websites. In August, Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, WhatsApp and Viber, along with Belarusian internet media, and thousands of other sites were unavailable in Belarus. Social networks and websites were blocked for several days as violent mass beatings, and detention of protesters by security forces took place.
Although the Belarusian government announced a cyberattack from abroad, technical analysis of internet activity indicated local authorities’ actions.
The Sandvine website says that their technologies should not infringe on human rights, and that their Business Ethics Committee decides whether all contracts conform with this policy.
In 2018, researchers from Toronto found that Sandvine devices were used in Turkey, Syria, and Egypt to redirect users from legitimate sites to malware or spyware sites. In Egypt and Turkey, they were used to block political, human rights, and news content. Sandvine denies any involvement.
Belarusians found a way out
Even though access to the global network in Belarus was blocked to limit information spread, ways to get online were still found: Belarusians began to use VPN services, especially the Canadian Psiphon.
According to statistics from Psiphon Inc., from August 9 to August 12 massive increases were recorded in the number of users from Belarus. By August 11, 2020, Psiphon had already registered more than 1.7 million unique users from this country.
In addition, there was massive use of an anonymous, decentralized ecosystem called Utopia P2P. Users noted that the ecosystem worked without interruptions, even in the situation of the government blocking the internet.