Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 8th Feb 2017 10:11 UTC, submitted by Alfman
Internet & Networking

Business owners in the town of Buea, the capital of the Southwest Region of Cameroon say they are struggling to operate following an internet shutdown that began on January 17. Internet users here say that they can no longer communicate or access information, particularly on social media. Many internet cafes, micro finance institutions and money transfer agencies have had to shutdown.

"When things like this happen and they just ban the internet which is the source of my livelihood. I just feel like maybe I made the wrong decision. Maybe I should just leave the country like my friends and never return again. And I personally feel bad that that would be unpatriotic on my part but you know, we have to do what we have to do sometimes. And now I don’t even know if the Internet will be returned. I don't know when it will be returned," said IT entrepreneur, Churchill Mambe.

It's remarkable how important the internet has become, especially in developing countries.

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Bad
by Sauron on Wed 8th Feb 2017 11:45 UTC
Sauron
Member since:
2005-08-02

Sad thing is, the way things are going that's something that could happen here in the western world too. Orwell is turning in the grave, 1984 was written as a warning not a fu**ing instruction manual!

Reply Score: 2

RE: Bad
by Morgan on Wed 8th Feb 2017 15:21 UTC in reply to "Bad"
Morgan Member since:
2005-06-29

It's already starting in the US. Ajit Pai has vowed to destroy net neutrality as a concept and has also started trying to take away Internet access from poor people. His goal appears to be a tiered Internet where the richest get full access, the middle class are forced to choose only the parts they can afford, and the poor are restricted from being connected at all.

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/02/advocates-for-poor-peopl...

Reply Score: 5

RE[2]: Bad
by Sauron on Wed 8th Feb 2017 15:38 UTC in reply to "RE: Bad"
Sauron Member since:
2005-08-02

Yeah, between your Trump and our corrupt Conservatives with a unelected PM we're properly screwed!
Sooner or later things are going to blow up in to civil war. Maybe not in out lifetimes, but I think it's going to happen!

Reply Score: 4

RE[3]: Bad
by Anonymous Penguin on Thu 9th Feb 2017 16:20 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Bad"
Anonymous Penguin Member since:
2005-07-06

Civil war, which might even be desirable, or full blown war between World Powers, not so desirable.

Reply Score: 2

More than technology
by boblowski on Wed 8th Feb 2017 17:42 UTC
boblowski
Member since:
2007-07-23


It's remarkable how important the internet has become, especially in developing countries.


We in the developed world often don't realize that internet and cellular networks are in many developing countries the first dependable infrastructure at all.

People in many developing countries have over years learned to cope with unreliable electricity, roads, water, transportation, distribution networks -- mostly by trying to not depend too much on them at all. Planning ahead and long-term or non-local deals always carry a risk and often you're depending on corrupt third parties to keep your business alive.

Internet and cellular networks opened a whole new way of working. They're dependable enough to build businesses and a future on them. You know you can keep the deals and agreements that you make today and by dealing directly with your business partners you can bypass corrupt parties and unreliable infrastructure.

That's why this technology is so important for the development of those countries. It gives local entrepreneurs the security needed to invest in the local economy and build up their country.

Reply Score: 5

RE: More than technology
by Alfman on Wed 8th Feb 2017 18:42 UTC in reply to "More than technology"
Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

boblowski,

Internet and cellular networks opened a whole new way of working. They're dependable enough to build businesses and a future on them. You know you can keep the deals and agreements that you make today and by dealing directly with your business partners you can bypass corrupt parties and unreliable infrastructure.


I think we should have a debate as to how dependable it really is in the face of fascism. Consider egypt's shutdown of internet and telephone services:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/29/technology/internet/29cutoff.html
Autocratic governments often limit phone and Internet access in tense times. But the Internet has never faced anything like what happened in Egypt on Friday, when the government of a country with 80 million people and a modernizing economy cut off nearly all access to the network and shut down cellphone service.

The shutdown caused a 90 percent drop in data traffic to and from Egypt, crippling an important communications tool used by antigovernment protesters and their supporters to organize and to spread their message.

Vodafone, a cellphone provider based in London with 28 million subscribers in Egypt, said in a statement on its Web site that “all mobile operators in Egypt have been instructed to suspend services in selected areas.” The company said it was “obliged to comply” with the order.

Egypt, to an unprecedented extent, pulled itself off the grid.



In the west, we take it for granted that the internet won't get shut down, in part because of our faith that our rights will be upheld. As much as I find it inconceivable that our politicians could successfully order an internet shutdown, if such an order came to pass, such as in the name of national security, the majority of us could be shut down very effectively.

Combating the threats posed to centralized targets (aka ISPs), would require some kind of decentralized pirate mesh internet service run by ordinary people.

Reply Score: 3

RE[2]: More than technology
by Pro-Competition on Wed 8th Feb 2017 21:55 UTC in reply to "RE: More than technology"
Pro-Competition Member since:
2007-08-20

Combating the threats posed to centralized targets (aka ISPs), would require some kind of decentralized pirate mesh internet service run by ordinary people.


I completely agree. I've heard of several attempts at mesh networks in the past, but I haven't investigated much. Are there any projects / proposals that might get off the ground?

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: More than technology
by Morgan on Thu 9th Feb 2017 06:40 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: More than technology"
Morgan Member since:
2005-06-29

I dabble with HSMM-Mesh, an amateur radio project that repurposes old Wi-Fi routers like the WRT54G into mesh nodes. Ubiquiti makes easily convertible modern hardware as well. You can connect one such device to the actual Internet and every other node on that mesh can then access the outside Web. You can also connect separate mesh networks together via line-of-sight dish antennas over dozens of miles to spread the love even further.


http://www.broadband-hamnet.org/

Reply Score: 2

RE[4]: More than technology
by Alfman on Thu 9th Feb 2017 19:29 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: More than technology"
Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

Morgan,

I dabble with HSMM-Mesh, an amateur radio project that repurposes old Wi-Fi routers like the WRT54G into mesh nodes. Ubiquiti makes easily convertible modern hardware as well. You can connect one such device to the actual Internet and every other node on that mesh can then access the outside Web. You can also connect separate mesh networks together via line-of-sight dish antennas over dozens of miles to spread the love even further.


Do you actually participate on a real network or is it more of a personal lab? It's something I'd enjoy working on, but I suspect even if I ended up buying all this gear I'd still be isolated because I'd have nobody else to connect to.

Ironically, the more reliable commercial internet service is, the less likely people will be prepared if it goes down. I would imagine that towns and communities with shoddy infrastructure are more likely to invest in DIY mesh networking.

Reply Score: 2

RE[5]: More than technology
by Morgan on Fri 10th Feb 2017 01:53 UTC in reply to "RE[4]: More than technology"
Morgan Member since:
2005-06-29

Unfortunately there isn't a ton of mesh networking activity near me, so it's my own nodes. I've been debating whether I should add another node and run a directional antenna up on the roof. I could try to locate the nearest network, contact its operator, and see if we could link up. So far though, the nearest one I know of is not line-of-sight reachable without a 100+ foot antenna, which is a no-go for my neighborhood and my wife.

I live outside the city limits (I'm basically semi-rural), but I've considered talking to the local government about setting up a mesh network around town for emergency communications. They are very forward-thinking for a small Georgia town, but I don't know if they would be amenable. I'd probably have to assemble a small army of other amateur radio operators as volunteers, and I think there are less than five of us in the immediate area, with maybe one or two who could be persuaded to help.

Reply Score: 2

RE[6]: More than technology
by Alfman on Fri 10th Feb 2017 06:19 UTC in reply to "RE[5]: More than technology"
Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

Unfortunately there isn't a ton of mesh networking activity near me, so it's my own nodes. I've been debating whether I should add another node and run a directional antenna up on the roof. I could try to locate the nearest network, contact its operator, and see if we could link up. So far though, the nearest one I know of is not line-of-sight reachable without a 100+ foot antenna, which is a no-go for my neighborhood and my wife.


Hahaha, yea I hear ya ;)

I live outside the city limits (I'm basically semi-rural), but I've considered talking to the local government about setting up a mesh network around town for emergency communications. They are very forward-thinking for a small Georgia town, but I don't know if they would be amenable. I'd probably have to assemble a small army of other amateur radio operators as volunteers, and I think there are less than five of us in the immediate area, with maybe one or two who could be persuaded to help.


I don't know what it would take to get a tower permit here on long island. The terrain is notoriously flat so just getting above the treeline/houseline probably wouldn't be too difficult. We rent though so the point's a bit mute.


For something a bit more adhoc than a tower: attach an antenna off of a tethered ballon or quad rotor. You could even use a directional antenna this way if there isn't too much wind. I don't know how easily a quadrotor can lift lightweight cables, but being powered from the ground could help drive stronger motors and reduce the weight of batteries.

Probably a bit silly to propose anything like this permanently, but I think something like it could prove extremely valuable after a disaster.


Since the FCC doesn't regulate visible light, lasers optionally with mirrors to bounce around obstacles could be a viable option too. A couple lenses could give the beam a larger cross section, making it more robust against natural debris and alignment error. Tiny servos could help automatic alignment across very long distances and self correction as needed. If something like this were available, it would make a great addition to interconnect the regional mesh networks over much longer distances than wifi.

While they're probably using monster lasers to do it, the fact that they can send laser signals to the moon and back proves that arbitrary distances are at least possible.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2009/jun/21/mcdonald-observat...

Having a high altitude blimp in the sky would probably be ideal for a relay station since it's height makes it visible to many endpoints simultaneously. It's unclear that amateur network operators would have the permission to fly it in the first place though. Maybe it would at least be an option over international waters, which would be useful to reach europe anyways.

Edited 2017-02-10 06:31 UTC

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: More than technology
by Alfman on Thu 9th Feb 2017 16:07 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: More than technology"
Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

Pro-Competition,

I completely agree. I've heard of several attempts at mesh networks in the past, but I haven't investigated much. Are there any projects / proposals that might get off the ground?


This is a great computer science problem, there are projects that solve it in theory. Have a look at this one:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B.A.T.M.A.N.

The problem is during a real blackout scenario, it's going to be far harder for normal people to organize, acquire hardware, and deploy infrastructure. Even experts will have difficulty finding each other in order to coordinate a widescale deployment. The challenges are numerous. What are the odds that an amateur network can span the hundreds/thousands of miles to escape national borders?

Ideally we could simply install software on our existing hardware, or buy cheap commodity hardware that we could just turn on during a blackout without much planning or configuration to auto-discover everyone else who's doing the same.

The problem with ordinary consumer-grade Wifi equipment is that they are not designed to connect to two different channels simultaneously. This is a severe limitation for the goals of mesh networking using standard Wifi equipment. Wifi's peer to peer mode can be used, but with all traffic shunted into the same channel, performance degrades very quickly as peers are added. This fundamentally requires more non-overlapping channels. 2.4Ghz wifi equipment was only designed to give us 3 unique channels, which was an extremely shortsighted engineering decision at the time. At least they gave us more channels in the 5GHz band, but the shorter range makes it somewhat less desirable.

Arguably bluetooth could be better for mesh because the spec uses dynamic frequency hopping spread across 79 unique channels. Additionally it's scheduling was explicitly designed to allow devices to connect to two networks simultaneously, enabling every bluetooth device to effectively become a router given the right software. Also important is that the existing bluetooth API on standard phones could probably build a mesh network without any special drivers - a huge benefit for amateur users. There's one crucial detractor though: the low power and ~10m range of typical bluetooth radios means they're next to useless for this sort of application.

The GSM radios in our pockets could be a good choice for range & concurrent access, but they tend to be locked down and inaccessible for reprogramming.

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: More than technology
by boblowski on Thu 9th Feb 2017 21:49 UTC in reply to "RE: More than technology"
boblowski Member since:
2007-07-23

I think we should have a debate as to how dependable it really is in the face of fascism. Consider egypt's shutdown of internet and telephone services:


I actually share your concern.

Reliable internet (and cellular networks, in most developing countries those two technologies go hand in hand) makes it possible for people to build up businesses and economic networks, and is very important for the development of reliable social structures that can operate in an unreliable context.

But this independence from traditional infrastructure (and those that have power or control over that) is also exactly the reason why governments can be hostile to it or at least want tight control over it. Not just in developing countries.

In the west, we take it for granted that the internet won't get shut down, in part because of our faith that our rights will be upheld. As much as I find it inconceivable that our politicians could successfully order an internet shutdown, if such an order came to pass, such as in the name of national security, the majority of us could be shut down very effectively.


In the case of Egypt or now Cameroon I'm surprised at the bluntness. In my opinion in both cases it was more about a display of power than about control. Even a fascist regime can't afford to bring its economy to a standstill and much of its control is depending on that that same internet in the first place.

China for example shows how you control internet and information in a sustainable way.

Combating the threats posed to centralized targets (aka ISPs), would require some kind of decentralized pirate mesh internet service run by ordinary people.


But with all that in mind, in truly hostile situations internet indeed is an easy target. It surprises me I never heard of terrorist plots on internet exchange points or submarine cables.

I'm reading the links and discussions in the other comments with great interest.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: More than technology
by Alfman on Fri 10th Feb 2017 00:27 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: More than technology"
Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

boblowski,

In the case of Egypt or now Cameroon I'm surprised at the bluntness. In my opinion in both cases it was more about a display of power than about control. Even a fascist regime can't afford to bring its economy to a standstill and much of its control is depending on that that same internet in the first place.

China for example shows how you control internet and information in a sustainable way.


Well, maybe that's where some of these small countries are headed. They turn it off because they want to cut off dissidents, their open internet could be replaced with strict firewalls.

I wonder how china's firewall works, and how effective it really is? It seems like there would be so many ways to go around partial bans for the technically inclined. I wonder how many people get through.



But with all that in mind, in truly hostile situations internet indeed is an easy target. It surprises me I never heard of terrorist plots on internet exchange points or submarine cables.


This one worries me less because the internet is actually resilient against physical sabotage. That's one of the scenarios it was designed to protect against during warfare. While the paths could become less optimal as the internet routes around the damage, a complete shutdown would be rather unlikely.

IMHO a bigger threat exists by hacking into the IP backbone and messing up the routing, effectively black holing arbitrary targets. This has happened accidentally on a few occasions, it could conceivably be used to mount a deliberate attack:

http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/data-center/black-hole-routes-the-...
The entire YouTube network recently went down, across the globe, for about two hours — thanks to a mistake made by an ISP in Pakistan. That mistake involved a black hole route accidentally distributed around the world.

With BGP, there's no foolproof way to stop an accident or malicious attack from taking down the traffic to an Internet destination. However, more BGP security may eventually come in the form of Secure BGP.



I imagine that china, US, and maybe others who poses legitimate BGP keys used for global internet routing have a procedure in place right now to black-hole portions of the web, so to speak.

Reply Score: 2

RE[4]: More than technology
by boblowski on Fri 10th Feb 2017 12:31 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: More than technology"
boblowski Member since:
2007-07-23

Alfman,

I wonder how china's firewall works, and how effective it really is? It seems like there would be so many ways to go around partial bans for the technically inclined. I wonder how many people get through.


The Chinese 'regulation' of internet in my hands-on experience is a clever mix of suppression, natural barriers, and offering easy and good alternatives. It's more Huxley than Orwell.

Most Chinese people I talk to are aware you can bypass the blocks and filters, but it's a hassle and they feel there is little need to do so and most content outside of China is not in Chinese anyway. Why care about Facebook if everybody you know and all relevant information is on Weibo? (Actually, I even have the impression many international brands are better represented on Weibo than on Facebook.)

And in the Chinese mindset this 'regulation' is not necessarily a bad thing. It offers protection against predatory multinationals, and creates breathing space for the development of Chinese businesses that operate in a Chinese social context. Every Chinese kid learns about the lessons from the Opium Wars.

This one worries me less because the internet is actually resilient against physical sabotage. That's one of the scenarios it was designed to protect against during warfare. While the paths could become less optimal as the internet routes around the damage, a complete shutdown would be rather unlikely.


Not arguing with that. Judging on the density of the exchange points and interconnects though, internet in vulnerable regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa is by far not as resilient as say in the US or Europe.

IMHO a bigger threat exists by hacking into the IP backbone and messing up the routing, effectively black holing arbitrary targets. This has happened accidentally on a few occasions, it could conceivably be used to mount a deliberate attack:


I've been reading up on Open-Mesh and HSMM-Mesh. Interesting stuff and I'll definitely going to give it try here.

It seems these projects struggle most with the representation of the hierarchical nature of internet in a non-hierarchical mesh, and the flow and routing of data in such a mesh.

I'm probably lacking fundamental knowledge here, but it sounds like mesh networks are very vulnerable to DDoS type of attacks that flood the network and make efficient routing impossible. Exactly because they lack the natural compartmentalization of traditional internet.

To come back to your BGP remark, I'm wondering if it's not more efficient to develop a solution that can create a mesh of discrete traditional subnets. A kind of mid-level mesh BGP that can connect local subnets (company/municipal/school networks) into a regional mesh that in an emergency can be disconnected or operate independently from providers and governments.

Reply Score: 2

RE[5]: More than technology
by Alfman on Fri 10th Feb 2017 15:08 UTC in reply to "RE[4]: More than technology"
Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

boblowski,

And in the Chinese mindset this 'regulation' is not necessarily a bad thing. It offers protection against predatory multinationals, and creates breathing space for the development of Chinese businesses that operate in a Chinese social context. Every Chinese kid learns about the lessons from the Opium Wars.


I'm frequently taken aback at how much cheaper it is for me to order from chinese suppliers, with free shipping to the US no less. I suspect they're all gray market goods the manufacturer doesn't authorize for sale outside of china, but the apparent markup we're all paying in the west is insane. I don't want to wait weeks for my orders to travel across the ocean, so I usually order locally, but if I were in china then I highly doubt that expensive foreign goods would have much appeal.


I'm probably lacking fundamental knowledge here, but it sounds like mesh networks are very vulnerable to DDoS type of attacks that flood the network and make efficient routing impossible. Exactly because they lack the natural compartmentalization of traditional internet.


I assume the mesh deployments in practice are secured by trustworthy administrators explicitly authorizing access. But for a truly public adhoc network I don't see how you fix flooding the network with useless traffic that behaves exactly as though it were useful traffic.

Although less appealing from a idealistic point of view, you could try to manage users by requiring subscriptions and automatically terminating accounts that flood the network. Hardware could come pre-installed with an account. Perhaps a captcha of some kind for public users who install software themselves and need to setup a new account, although they're not really 100% effective.

Alternatively, while it could put a damper on things, payments in exchange for access / bandwidth is a solution. I initially thought of bitcoin, but it occurred to me that the whole bitcoin chain model breaks down on a technical level if connectivity isn't 100% across the world, so it's probably not a workable currency for a mesh network.

To come back to your BGP remark, I'm wondering if it's not more efficient to develop a solution that can create a mesh of discrete traditional subnets. A kind of mid-level mesh BGP that can connect local subnets (company/municipal/school networks) into a regional mesh that in an emergency can be disconnected or operate independently from providers and governments.


I'm not even sure if IP is the best routing solution for a mesh network. In order for them to route properly on a wider scale these are supposed to be coordinated through IANA. This is similar to the frustration we sometimes face as network admins when connecting corporate subnets with overlapping private addresses (ie 192.168.x.x or 10.x.x.x or 172.31.x.x). At least IP6 has enough space to make it statistically unlikely that randomly chosen subnets wouldn't collide.

Unfortunately there's another problem with pure IP, even if your mesh subnet is assigned a valid ip range from IANA, most ISPs won't allow customers to pass traffic using their own personally assigned IPs through the ISP's network (see "multihoming").

This would mean that your mesh network HAS to use the ISP's delegated IPs, but in a dynamic mesh network where the nodes go up and down, the ISP may not even be reachable at the time and so you can't know what IP address to use. To make matters worse, if the mesh is connected to multiple ISPs, which is reasonable, then every node's IP address in the mesh would have to change as ISP connectivity changes.

To be absolutely clear, dynamic IP routing protocols already solve this problem, but in general ISPs won't trust customers with dynamic routing protocols, and so it remains an issue for dynamic mesh networks.


These sorts of issues are what compelled BATMAN to develop a new layer 2 protocol better designed to handle dynamic conditions of the mesh.

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: More than technology
by moondevil on Fri 10th Feb 2017 14:15 UTC in reply to "RE: More than technology"
moondevil Member since:
2005-07-08

Not only the Internet, computing in general.

Imagine only being able to run OS or critical applications that were authorized by the government, or in the hands of an enemy nation.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: More than technology
by Alfman on Fri 10th Feb 2017 15:23 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: More than technology"
Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

moondevil,

Not only the Internet, computing in general.

Imagine only being able to run OS or critical applications that were authorized by the government, or in the hands of an enemy nation.



Yea, can you believe they actually tried to mandate the "Clipper" chip right here in the US?

http://www.cryptomuseum.com/crypto/usa/clipper.htm

Fortunately for everyone it didn't come to pass, but it could have set a very real precedent for government control over all our technology.

Reply Score: 2

Such an important system...
by dionicio on Wed 8th Feb 2017 21:47 UTC
dionicio
Member since:
2006-07-12

Lacking redundancy, resilience, etc. And this is the generalized scenario. So fragile, modernity.

Reply Score: 2