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Communications Cellphones Networking Wireless Networking

Keeping a Cellphone System Going In a War 34

Posted by timothy
from the uplink-to-the-world dept.
dogsbreath writes "An Al Jazeera article provides fascinating insight about how engineers for one of the Libyan cell providers in the rebel held East have kept the system going in the middle of a civil insurrection. Administering a now-free cellular system in a war zone brings new meaning to the term BOFH as the engineers deal with bandwidth hogs and prioritize international traffic. A technical decision to keep a copy of the user database (the HLR) in Benghazi was crucial to keeping people's phones on line. There are reasons besides earthquakes and Tsunamis to keep your data backed up in geographically diverse locations. The report expands on and corrects the WSJ article covered on Slashdot before."
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Keeping a Cellphone System Going In a War

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  • Really? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    There are reasons besides earthquakes and Tsunamis to keep your data backed up in geographically diverse locations.

    Letting an insurgency take control and use your communications infrastructure against you sounds more like a reason not to back up your data in geographically diverse locations. Regardless of whether you support the rebels or not, this sounds more like a reason to secure and protect backups so that they can't be used without authorization unless you're in favor of helping out groups that are

    • Maybe not applicable to most governments but the rebels are not the bad guys in Libya.

      They are pro democracy and freedom and wont kill you unless your name is Gadhaffi. The only people who support him are government workers who are being paid and those who do not want to be killed by their own government.

  • All engineers take note of what they did and how they did it, it's up to us to do the same thing if something like that happens in our country.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      All engineers take note of what they did and how they did it, it's up to us to do the same thing when something like that happens in our country.

      FTFY

    • by gman003 (1693318)

      All engineers take note of what they did and how they did it, it's up to us to do the same thing when something like that happens in our country.

      Fixed.

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Saturday May 14, 2011 @12:31PM (#36127346) Homepage

      All engineers take note of what they did and how they did it, it's up to us to do the same thing if something like that happens in our country.

      This is interesting (and it's better reporting than we get from most sources, thank you, Al Jezeera). Basically, modern network infrastructure is controlled by a relatively small number of technical staff. Even if a government manages to cut the major fiber optic backbones, there is enough expertise and equipment in the world to 'work around' that problem.

      Ghaddaffi (or how ever you spell it) made the mistake of allowing a small mobile provider to keep control of it's subscriber database. They used that info, along with a cobbled together satellite and land line network to patch things up well enough to essentially be a command and control system for the opposition.

      Could the US Government be more effective in a general meelee in the US itself? Perhaps. The US military has a higher degree of technical competence than Libya's but if there really was a new 'civil war' level of discontent, there would be defections left and right.

      The Internet is designed to route around damage. This is taking it to another level. May you live in interesting times, indeed.

      • The US also has missles designed to lock onto transceivers and destroy them. Your satellite uplink might not last long.
        • The US also has missiles designed to lock onto transceivers and destroy them. Your satellite uplink might not last long.

          These work best in a relatively 'quiet' RF environment. In the US, there would be lots of uplinks and it would be relatively difficult to get the 'right' one. But you're correct, the US does have significant anti-pretty-damned-much-everything capability. The big question would be, if the shit hits the fan and you have a general civil-war type conflict, how much can you expect the military to do? Further, while we do have anti RF devices, we don't have that many of them.

          Just a little Armchair Armaged

          • by bar-agent (698856)

            The big question would be, if the shit hits the fan and you have a general civil-war type conflict, how much can you expect the military to do?

            I used to think that in the event of a widespread insurgency or revolution, a country's military would stand down rather than gun down thousands. But after what happened in Libya, I am no longer confident that this is the case. It's like the Milgram experiment on a bigger and deadlier scale.

            • Gadhaffi burned many senior officers alive in his compound and showed them to the rest of his military to show what happens if loyalty is not obeyed. Many in the military did support the opposition. Most after this decided to support Gadhaffi and not risk being killed.

          • It had occured to me that you could simply set up the uplinks en-mass -- let them use up all the missiles. But then it occured to me that between the capability to jam signals over large geographic area, and the anti-satellite capabilities, if the US Government really wants to shut down communications, they will. It's have to be an extreme situation.
  • Bad title (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 14, 2011 @12:32PM (#36127352)

    The title of keeping the system running is completely inaccurate. They didn't keep it up. They preformed a network coup d'etat. It was really pretty cool. There are a couple write-ups around the internet on tech cellar type blog but I don't have any links handy.
    They basically brought a few key pieces of equipment in from outside the country, stole a few key peaces of info like subscriber database from the, at the time, shutdown system and then brought most of the towers back up linked into a new OAM system. Really, check it out, largest scale network coup d'etat I have ever read about.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      gaddafi & guys('ol muba etc) didn't think what they were doing when they ordered cellphone networks and paid good money for it. it's a real big test on a country to bring that in big time.

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