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28 Aug 2020

Ryan Gallagher, Bloomberg

Belarusian Officials Shut Down Internet With Technology Made by U.S. Firm

The government of Belarus shut down access to much of the internet during a crucial election this month by using equipment manufactured by a U.S. company to block people's access to thousands of websites... Sandvine Inc. makes what's known as “deep packet inspection” equipment, used to monitor and filter network traffic. It was obtained by Belarus’s National Traffic Exchange Center, which manages the country’s internet networks... according to government documents and the people.

In soliciting bids for new technology in 2018, the government said it needed help with “countering violations” associated with internet activity. But the real potency of the technology it obtained didn’t become clear until... large parts of the internet inside Belarus went dark during one of the most consequential elections in nearly 30 years.

... Deep packet inspection systems... are used by governments and companies worldwide to monitor and manage internet traffic, including for spam or other malicious activity. But they can also be used for more controversial tactics. Citizen Lab... determined in 2018 that deep packet inspection devices from Sandvine was being against users in Turkey, Syria and Egypt to redirect them from legitimate sites to malicious ones, some containing spyware commonly used by governments. In Egypt and Turkey, the devices were also used to block political, human rights and news content, Citizen Lab found.

Sandvine described Citizen Lab’s findings as “false, misleading and technically inaccurate.” Citizen Lab responded by saying it was confident in its research findings.

... In 2017, Sandvine was acquired by California-based private equity firm Francisco Partners in a deal worth $444 million.