Amid the Ukraine conflict, Moscow is hinting that it is ready to isolate itself from the global internet. But experts say it’s not easy.
Between June and July last year, Russia cut itself off from the global Internet in a series of radical experiences aimed at testing whether the country has what it takes to survive going “offline”. This was an attempt to prepare officials for an event where Russia might be blocked from using the World Wide Web.
As things stand, Moscow may well be preparing to put this idea to the test, which could potentially disconnect an estimated 100 million Russian internet users from the rest of the world.
Amid the conflict with Ukraine that has drawn harsh Western sanctions, Russia is reportedly actively considering ways to isolate itself from the global network as it tries to protect sensitive military data and social media information from its people. .
Although Russia has denied such a move, a document issued by the Russian Ministry of Digital Development has put the spade among the pigeons.
From 2016, the German Klimenko, a former Internet adviser to President Vladimir Putin, had hinted at such drastic action in the event of a crisis.
One of the main talking points in the latest document is the directive to all state-owned websites and online portals to transfer their domain name system (DNS) to servers physically located in Russia.
This will virtually allow Russia to operate a parallel Internet outside of the global DNS run by the US-based nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
What is a sovereign Internet?
At the heart of Russia’s reliance on isolating itself from the global internet network is the concept known as “Sovereign Runet”, adopted by Moscow as legislation in late 2019 as the “Sovereign Internet” law.
The law has been described as Russia’s response to the “aggressive nature” of US cybersecurity strategy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has stressed that the concept of a sovereign and free internet is not contradictory, dismissing fears that Moscow is using the law to restrict freedom of expression.
But as recent examples show, Russia has used various measures to slow down and block Twitter and Facebook, which she says “violate the rights of Russian citizens”.
Artem Kozlyuk, head of the NGO Roskomsvoboda, insisted: “The state is now heading there systematically, and almost all major services have already been blocked.”
Then there is the issue of a document signed by Deputy Minister of Digital Development Andrey Chernenko which was leak on Telegram. This is a recommendation for government agencies to check their domain data and, if necessary, transfer it to Russian servers and update passwords.
On March 9, the Russians has received official recommendations of the Ministry of Information to install “Yandex Browser” to gain access to all websites and online services, including the Gosuslugi portal, used to access government services.
According to the Ministry of Information, “Gosuslugi” and other sites can no longer work with security certificates for non-Russian Internet resources.
The flurry of directives has Russians wondering if they will end up having a North Korean version of the internet – totally sanitized to bring them only the government side of everything.
However, experts are skeptical about the effectiveness of Russia’s potential move.
Karen Ghazaryan, director of the Internet Research Institute (IRI), said that the steps outlined in the Ministry of Information documents are recommendations that state agencies were supposed to implement following a law passed three years ago, but for some reason did not not done yet.
Taking these steps now – following several cyberattacks on Russian websites and the shutdown of some foreign services in Russia – makes perfect sense.
“Changing passwords, two-factor authentication will help avoid serious consequences,” said Sarkis Darbinyan, cyber lawyer and co-founder of the Roskomsvoboda community. clarified.
Is it possible to disconnect from the “external internet”?
Two main topics are relevant in this regard: can others disconnect Russia from the World Wide Web, and can Russia itself disconnect? Experts say both are hard to do.
“We cannot disconnect from the global internet overnight,” says Darbinyan. Technically, it is possible to disconnect all delimited transmission points, and that will be the end (and there will be no global internet in Russia,) but in terms of economic factors, a disconnection is far from simple .
“The entire Russian economy is tied to the global network, its disconnection will have a much bigger impact than the sanctions that are currently being imposed and are already affecting the economy,” Darbinyan said.
There is an unpleasant precedent: “Russia has already been disconnected by the backbone provider, the American company Cogent”, he says.
“It’s not fatal: it was only three to four percent of the traffic, but now we have absolutely no idea what to expect from the others.”
He believes that it is unlikely that all hubs in the world will simultaneously shut down Russia; in addition to western hubs, there are hubs in Asia, Kazakhstan and Armenia.
“In a moment it may create turbulence, foreign sites will not load well, but total disconnection from Russia will not happen anyway,” he said. Completely disconnecting Russia from the outside is an extremely difficult task, because there is no single “switch” to put this into practice.
And if they disconnect, will everything fall apart?
“If we are completely shut down, services will start to crash and devices will face issues. Additionally, no one can guarantee that digital solutions that help manage traffic, factories and security can work without ties. external”, argue IRI’s Kazarian.
Smartphones, which constantly receive updates from manufacturers, will also “turn into a pumpkin” (become useless), unlikely to launch a single application.
“An interruption in connectivity would be a major disaster. A situation where they start shutting down the internet is comparable to a nuclear explosion,” Kazarian warns.
Even if the West deprives Russia of traffic, nothing will happen to the Russian home network. Experts believe that problems will arise with the foreign part of the World Wide Web. “I would say that now the probability of a ‘sovereign’ Internet is around 50%, and if the situation worsens, a big shutdown and a disconnection from the global network awaits us”, explains Sarkis Darbinyan.
Source: World TRT