Conventional wisdom holds that the Internet is too resilient and decentralized for a government to simply shut it down, but Egypt managed to do just that, and engineers are just starting to realize how. Cairo controls—and was able to close off—the handful of lines that connect Egypt to the outside world, they tell New York Times. In theory, the domestic Internet was still running, but in practice, it was so interconnected with foreign servers that it ground to a screeching halt.
“They drilled unexpectedly all the way down to the bottom layer of the Internet and stopped all traffic flowing,” says the chief technology officer of an Internet monitoring company. “It is an unprecedented event.” But it might not be the last: Many authoritarian regimes have similar controls on international traffic chokepoints, he says. The shutdown didn’t save Hosni Mubarak, but “probably there are people who will look at this and say, it really worked pretty well, he just blew the timing.”