how Russia aspires to isolate itself from the rest of the world

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Russia is preparing to go offline. This is indicated by at least one circular published by the Russian Ministry of Statistics. According to the Russian newspaper Kommersantthe Russian government “has instructed all state websites and services to switch to the Russian domain name system by March 11.”

Not only that: all those services will have to abandon hosting on foreign servers, disable traffic counters, disable foreign JavaScript code and strengthen password policy.

Reasons for disconnection. The situation has taken a unique turn: we have gone from Ukraine asking to disconnect Russia from the internet to the Russian government’s intentions to do just that. The theoretical goal? According to the Russian rulers, protect themselves from external cyberattacks and avoid foreign dependencies. The real? Probably, implementing a filtering system similar to the one China has with your ‘Great Firewall’ The consequences? numerous and unpredictable.

The ‘law of a sovereign internet’. Vladimir Putin’s regime introduced in November 2019 a new regulation called ‘Sovereign Internet Law’ that according to analysts “creates a legal framework for centralized state management of the internet within the borders of Russia. Although full implementation will be extremely complex, this framework will likely lead to stronger state control over society, and additional difficulties for local and foreign companies “. With this project, Russia would have at its disposal “a mechanism for the effective surveillance of the Internet within its borders.” What has been said: here Russia wants to copy China.

Goodbye internet, hello RuNet. Russia has been working on this possibility for some time. In 2019 they prepared a security test to disconnect the entire country from the global internet network, something that they had already driven with their demands on the few VPN services that operate there. That test would have prepared Russian operators to redirect Russian internet traffic to points approved or controlled by Roskomnadzor, the Russian telecommunications agency.

Thus, the large Russian intranet RuNet, which even then had the objective of protecting Russia from foreign interference, was launched for several days, the Russian Ministry of Communications said. China already has a tight grip on internet traffic in the country, and Russia seems to want to go in that direction as well.

How to disconnect a country from the internet. To achieve this disconnection, the Russian authorities they take time working to prepare a local copy of all DNS. that backup was assessed in 2014 and was updated in 2018.

The process would broadly consist of two tasks: to make sure that the content that Russian citizens want to access is on Russian servers – which is why they want to force all content there to be hosted on servers located on Russian territory – and to make sure that routing and information exchanges —hence the copying of the DNS— take place at the domestic level. It seems easy…

…but is not. Already in 2019 it was made clear that the global infrastructure of the internet makes something like this difficult. Andrew Sullivan, CEO of the Internet Society, explained So that “turning off the internet tends to be much more difficult than one would think once you create a resilient internet infrastructure.” Paul Barford, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, explained that the consequences of this deactivation are unpredictable and that “there could be catastrophic failures anywhere.”

It is probable that in basic services such as banking or health, they try to avoid these problems, but in many others, conflicts could appear everywhere. “Each web page is made of 1,000 different things. If you are managing a website in Russia, you would have to know where each one comes from,” added Andrew Blum, who is the author of a book that talks about the entire infrastructure of Internet.

Kommersant’s own text indicates how tests with RuNet in 2021 have already caused problems: “Users of major gaming and streaming services, including World of Tanks, Twitch, FlashScore and BitTorrent, began to experience access difficulties.” Of course, they added that “telecommunications companies and operators attribute the problems to the blocking of VPN services, which Roskomnadzor initiated”

But will Russia really go offline? The Ministry of Digital Development of the Russian Federation denied rumors that pointed to a possible disconnection of the Russian internet. On a message to the Interfax news agency – also reproduced in the Kommersant news -, its managers explained that “Russian websites are continuously being attacked by foreign cyberattacks. We are preparing various scenarios to ensure the availability of Russian resources. There are no plans to disconnect from the internet”.

The measures would protect Russian websites and services from potential denial-of-service attacks, and experts seem to match where that makes sense. Alena Epifanova, a cybersecurity expert at the German Council of Foreign Relations, stressed that “for me it is a normal and reasonable document against the cyberattacks that we have observed.” Rafal Rohozinski of cybersecurity firm SecDev Group seemed to agree: “Virtually every website in Russia has been down over the past week at one point or another. There’s a lot of concern about this.”

Epifanova added that “Russia is not yet ready to completely disconnect from the global internet. The entire Russian economy is based on the global internet, it is not like Iran or China. If they were to disconnect, you could expect a big collapse of the Russian economy.” .

Image | Vincent Yu/AP

Russia is preparing to go offline. This is indicated by at least one circular published by the Russian Ministry of…

Russia is preparing to go offline. This is indicated by at least one circular published by the Russian Ministry of…

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