Egypt's Internet Shutdown a Wakeup Call for CIOs

Reading the news of Egypt's Internet crackdown, CIOs around the world may be wondering how their companies would fare if such a situation happened in their home countries.

By Juan Carlos Perez
Fri, January 28, 2011

IDG News Service — Reading the news of Egypt's Internet crackdown, CIOs around the world may be wondering how their companies would fare if such a situation happened in their home countries.

Get Internet Access When Your Government Shuts It Down

Especially with the increased adoption of cloud-hosted applications and IT computing services, the notion of a countrywide Internet access blackout is bound to rattle IT executives.

And it should, according to Eric Paulak, a Gartner analyst. "This scenario isn't so far-fetched. It's just that you don't necessarily hear about it," he said in a phone interview.

Virtually every country's government reserves the right to temporarily nationalize and control what's considered critical infrastructure, which usually includes mobile networks, fixed-line telecommunications and Internet backbone systems, Paulak said.

Governments can invoke that right during national emergencies, whether they be natural disasters, terrorist attacks or any other incident that qualifies as such under a country's legal code.

"Theoretically this can happen anywhere, although the likelihood is pretty low," Paulak said. "However, because of that legal authority most countries have, the Internet, the mobile networks and the fixed-line phone networks could be cut off."

"Do you [as a CIO] need a contingency plan? Absolutely," he added.

A first step for CIOs and business managers should be to do an honest, realistic assessment of the possibilities that their company could find itself, through no fault of its own, in a nationwide Internet blackout.

"Companies doing business in any country should assess potential loss of Internet access as part of their risk management strategy and factor it into the cost of doing business," said industry analyst Rebecca Wettemann from Nucleus Research, via e-mail.

This is especially true for companies doing business in countries with a volatile political climate, where governments typically have tight control over electronic communications and don't think twice about seizing control of them, said IDC analyst Al Hilwa.

"If you are a CIO in this type of country, then clearly you need to be prepared for this type of edict," he said via e-mail. "The nature of our modern media technology is that in many ways it is an electronic tiger. In many countries, if things heat up, the government can just pull the plug on the whole thing."

Even in the U.S. recently there has been quite a bit of discussion about giving the president an "Internet kill switch" for disabling Internet services during national emergencies, noted industry analyst Michael Osterman from Osterman Research.

"If organizations are reliant on cloud-based services, this would be a critical problem," Osterman said via e-mail.

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