Bypassing a Government-imposed internet shutdown

Can the Nigerian government shut down the internet? How feasible is it? How do you bypass internet restriction or shut down? Here is all you need to know.

Bypassing a Government-imposed internet shutdown

The #ENDSARS movement has been at the forefront of discussions all around Nigeria and has gained international recognition.

Due to the intensity of the protests, there has been some speculation that the government may be gearing up to shut down access to the internet. Here, I talk about the possibility of this happening and ways in which you can anticipate and prepare.

The government shutting down the Internet isn't a new concept. In 2019 alone, there were 213 documented shutdowns in various countries around the world. These countries include India, Venezuela, Benin, and Liberia.

A government-sponsored internet shutdown is in the simplest terms: a situation where the government intentionally disrupt the internet or mobile applications in an attempt to control what people say or do.

This disruption could either be partial or full:

  • Partial Disruption: In this case, the government could instruct internet service providers (ISP) to restrict or block traffic to various sites. This is similar to what a lot of corporate offices do with firewalls. The most commonly affected platforms of a partial shutdown are social media sites.
  • Full Disruption: AKA "internet blackout". In this case, the government directs the ISPs in the country to shut down the internet, thereby rendering internet-dependent services inaccessible and effectively unusable. This type of shutdown is not very feasible in Nigeria since many critical financial infrastructures require the internet. This is normally used as a last resort in dictator-led governments to control the flow of information.

P.S: In some rare cases, the government of some countries throttled (read slowed down) social media platforms.

Image of a man without wi-fi

In the event of a partial internet shutdown, here are several ways to bypass the ISP enforced restrictions.

  1. VPN (Virtual Private Network): this is a secure portal between two or more devices which provides an encrypted connection from your device to the internet. In simpler terms: when you use a VPN, your phone connects to the VPN server and all your browsing traffic is proxied through it.

    The VPN server in this case sends your data to the website you want to visit and essentially shields your traffic from your ISP. This allows you to visit sites that could have been previously restricted. VPNs are generally some of the safest and easiest work-around internet restrictions.
  2. Tor (The Onion Network): Tor is open-source software built to anonymize traffic. It is popular amongst privacy advocates and journalists. It allows users to access blocked websites and resources without being tracked.
  3. Internet Proxy: An internet proxy acts as a gateway between you and the internet. When using a proxy, traffic flows through the proxy server on its way to the website you requested. The request then comes back through that same proxy server (there are some exceptions to this).

While in the case of a full internet shutdown where internet service is generally unavailable, there are some peer to peer messaging platforms that work similarly to a walkie talkie. These applications allow you to communicate with other persons within from 50 to 200 meters.

Picture of a Mesh Network
Mesh Network

This is made possible by broadcasting the messages in an encrypted form either via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. If there is no direct connection from your device to the device of the recipient, the application would bounce the message from user to user till it gets to the intended target. (It is basically like WhatsApp but without a central server and a dependence on internet availability.) One of such applications is Bridgefy (Android/ iOS).

For a detailed report on bypassing restrictions to blocked sites and staying anon on the internet, check out this post.

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