Near government buildings in the capital of the predominantly Muslim Republic of Ingushetia in the North Caucasus gathered thousands of protesters. They came there to protest against concessions in the multi-year border dispute with neighboring Chechnya. But when the demonstrators tried to share information about the protests through the app Votsap (WhatsApp), they found that all three leading mobile operators on the territory of Ingushetia disconnected.
This is the October outage started late in the evening when he was supposed to go protest rallies, and lasted more than two weeks until the protests subsided. When protests broke out again, the Internet is again suddenly turn off.
It was akin to a blackout. Locals like to voice messages, and because of this Votsap became the main form of communication in the North Caucasus.
The official explanation came only in the spring, when the security service FSB, which is the successor to the KGB, admitted in court that he had disconnected the Internet because of “terrorist threats”. All but one of the alleged threats coincided with the protests, said Andrei Sabinin, filed a lawsuit against the FSB and the interior Ministry because of these outages.
“They want to disable application for the dissemination of information online, says this human rights activist. — But will not Votsap, there will be no ties in the Caucasus. As soon as you arrive to Ingushetia, it is a black hole”.
Activists fear that these cuts can be repeated all over Russia because Vladimir Putin signed the law in may. The measure ostensibly aims to create a “sovereign Internet”. In fact, it will be a parallel network that is hosted entirely on servers in Russia. It will give Moscow the opportunity to maintain the health of the Internet in the case of foreign cyberattacks aimed at bringing it down.
To do this, ISPs will have to install equipment that Russia will be able to use to isolate themselves from the world wide web simple click of a button. This technology is designed to redirect all external traffic to the network nodes managed by Russia, and to create a reserve domain name system to the Russian Internet could function independently.
Russia’s dependence on foreign systems will be significantly reduced, which will accelerate the global process of “Balkanization” of the Internet and weaken the influence of the West. Moscow also uses deep packet inspection (DPI) for the concentration of authority for traffic filtering in the hands of Russian censors who have accessed the Internet service providers when it was necessary to block access to banned content.
“Imagine it as a precaution, but it really is a means of control, — says the analyst of Stanford University Sergey Sanovich, specialized on the online censorship in Russia. Mostly this is done to ensure that the Russian government could, if necessary, to obtain direct access to the management information space”.
Rally against the law on the protection of the Runet
Until 2012, the Internet in Russia developed without particular limitation, but when Putin returned to the presidency, it led to mass protests that were organized through social networks. In response to the Kremlin began aggressively to suppress dissent on the Internet. Some radical opposition pages made the lists of banned websites and independent news sites pinned to the nail. But this temporary system was considered inefficient.
In 2014, Putin declared the Internet a “CIA project” and said that he could undermine Russia’s sovereignty. Officials accused the USA that they used the Internet to beginning of the “Arab spring” and the Maidan revolution in Ukraine in 2013-2014. Some Pro-Kremlin politicians have started talking about what we need to take a cue from the “Great Chinese firewall (fire wall)”, as referred to the mixture of technologies and laws designed to control the Internet within China and Moscow, invited the sponsors to share experiences and advice.
Punitive measures have increased after 2017, when the opposition leader Alexei Navalny aired live on anti-corruption investigation, which has gained on YouTube (YouTube) more than 20 million views. This provoked the most extensive after the collapse of the Soviet Union protests across the country. In 2018, Russia has restricted the access to almost 650 thousand web sites. As reported by the human rights organization “Agora”, is almost five times more than the year before.
But Russia started to operate late, and it means that it has neither the infrastructure nor the human resources to control the Internet as effectively as does Beijing. China has its own very popular service messaging, such as Vichat (WeChat), and there are two million people follow the public opinion online. And in “Roskomnadzor”, which is the Supervisory body of the Ministry of communications, works a little over three thousand employees.
“The Chinese are blocking since day one, says one close to the Russian Ministry of communications source. — And we can’t do that”.
The most serious efforts in this direction, “Roskomnadzor” made last year, trying to ban the messenger “Telegram” (Telegram). He blamed the service in refusing to comply with the requirement of the FSB on the provision of user data. Attempt to block the application ended in catastrophic failure. The Russian founder of “the Telegram” Pavel Durov was peremeshcheniya traffic using a cloud-based hosted services, which the censors were forced to start hunting at random and has temporarily disabled over 16 million IP addresses, including your own web site. The Telegram is almost not affected.
The ban became a trademark joke among officials. Last year at a Ministerial reception the head of the “Roskomnadzor” Alexander Zharov shot to your phone the spectacular sunset, when one of the guests joked that he should share the picture via poorly banned the app. According to one of the guests, Zharov broke out with obscene speech.
“He’s a hostage situation, said one close to the Ministerial circles of people. — He knows that he can’t block. We are not able to control the process. People in uniform (FSB) bring to the Parliament the bills, and we are forced to accept them. But we look like idiots.”
According to experts, the problem partly lies in the fact that the Russian bureaucracy of the security agencies seldom take into account its limited technical possibilities.
“Attempts to put into practice the Russian concept of information security on the Internet fail because these people do not understand how the Internet works, — said a senior researcher at the Royal Institute of international Affairs Chatham house Kir Giles (Keir Giles), specializing in Russia and Eurasia. — If you interfere with the free flow of information across national boundaries, you can break the Internet.”
Proponents of stricter controls say that it will give Russia the opportunity to secure independence from hostile forces. “Many objects in the real economy such as power, transport infrastructure, heavily dependent on the Internet. It is a question of state security” — said a member of the upper house of Parliament Andrey Klishas, who became one of the authors of the law.
Klishas refers to the last American cybersecurity strategy, in which special attention is given to punish countries like Russia “to deter future cyberagression”, and says that it is for Russia a powerful incentive to act. Last month President Donald trump has reinforced these fears when he admitted that the United States during the midterm elections in 2018 carried out the cyber attack against Pro-Kremlin “Troll factory” in St.-Petersburg, apparently in response to online Russia’s intervention in the presidential campaign of 2016.
Experts say that the Russian arguments in favor of disconnection of the country from the global Internet is too vague to support these large-scale measures. Russia is talking about the following scenarios: threat of “preservation” of the network, interfering to ensure the security of the connection users; all that can prevent it to function, for example, natural disasters; and “purposeful destabilizing information pressure from outside and inside.”
“Methods of response to such threats should be, — said Irina Levova, head of the government working group on Internet matters. — But we can’t so easily say that all together tomorrow we will go to Mars if we do not have any technology or technologies”.
According to Klishas, officials a few months ago, successfully tested the system dpi in “a fairly large region with a population of several thousand people” (not in Ingushetia), and now plan to spend closer to the end of the year test in the entire country. But there are serious doubts as to whether it is possible to realize the act’s objectives.
According to Leva, only for equipment maintenance DPI may be required to 134 billion rubles a year, i.e. seven times more than estimates Klishas, while many technical terms are not entirely clear. According to available information, “Roskomnadzor” even before the adoption of the law hired a company the RDP.RU, which is partly owned by the state “Rostelecom”, for the supply of equipment DPI.
In the industry there are doubts as to whether Russia can produce the necessary equipment. It will have to undergo full-scale testing. And attempts to isolate Russia from the global supply chain, information technology failed. 96% of public entities continue to use unapproved software foreign production, despite attempts to translate them into domestic alternatives. This was announced by the court of auditors, which monitors spending in state institutions. Last year, the Russian government purchased the equipment of foreign production to 82 billion rubles, and the sum of purchases of domestic equipment amounted to 18 billion rubles, as reported by the state defence Corporation rostec.
“Right now is absolutely impossible, — says the head of one of large Russian companies of information technology. — There is no capacity to produce truly efficient and powerful chips. On the development of the industry will take years, and during this time Apple will go much further. We can buy everything in China, they do it themselves, but in this case there are national security issues”.
“If you have centralized control over the Russian Internet in an attempt to protect him, he may become even more vulnerable to foreign attacks, — said Artyom Kozlyuk, head of the organization for the protection of privacy of information “Roskomsvoboda”, — where the Internet is more centralized, and where there is one state provider, increasing the risk of external intervention.”
It is not excluded that Russia is also trying to protect themselves from the consequences of their own cyber operations, says Giles. Attack WannaCry and NotPetya who made havoc in companies all around the world and presumably carried out by Moscow, caused significant damage in Russia disconnect from the Internet some public firms. “Large-scale disruption has the opposite effect, he explains. — And these measures will make sure that disconnecting from the Internet, you won’t get hurt”.
When Russian troops in 2014, captured the Crimea, they quickly took control of the main exchange point Internet traffic and cable connections to the mainland of Ukraine. “It was the gold standard to ensure total information domination. After that the population received only Russian information,” says Giles.
Activists fear that because of the plan to isolate the Internet the same thing will happen to Russian citizens. “It will be totally different Internet. It will not be as fast and secure as it is now, says Kozlyuk. — The lock is completely opaque. Be months before I can find out that there was some kind of internal order [when blocking websites]”.
Klishas said that this system would just help the “Roskomnadzor” to implement the current law that is formally aimed at preventing terrorism and child pornography, but is often used to suppress dissent. “When the state started the fight against money laundering, the system has long been ineffective, especially when Troubleshooting problems such as drug trafficking and international terrorism. People always found ways to Finance this illegal activity. Then there is a new procedure to close these legal loopholes,” he explains.
FSB, do not hesitate because of failures with the Telegram, recently presented the same requirement the largest Russian Internet company “Yandex”. “Yandex” already shares some data with the authorities, and on Tuesday the company management has declared that will appeal against a requirement of the FSB on the decoding of user relations.
Despite the extensive and far-reaching requirements for data storage and the conditions of censorship (which, in 2016, the ban is LinkedIn (LinkedIn)), “Roskomnadzor” has not achieved much success in the obedience to his orders companies “Facebook” and “Google”. In December, Russia fined “Google” on 500 thousand rubles for refusing to join the state system of providing information security services. Google continues to ignore this law, however, Moscow has increased its pressure on Western companies, says Sanovich.
“The paradox is that Putin conducting these information operations abroad, also makes the “Facebook” and “Google” to introduce censorship in the country, he says. If they fulfill the requirements, the regime will become stronger, and the company will strike a blow to the reputation of their networks. But if they block, it will be much more important. The government in Russia is so tightly controlled media environment, these service providers play a crucial role in giving the Russians access to unfiltered information.”
“Roskomnadzor” takes additional steps to evade his bans was difficult. Virtual private networks are still widely available, but some of them recently left the Russian server, because this organization gave them the order to share with the Kremlin information about user traffic.
Kozlyuk believes that “Roskomnadzor” will use deep packet inspection to enforce the ban, and to do this would be to filter the traffic to separate virtual private networks, fining those who use them. “It is quite logical, he says. — You control the content, and then infrastructure, and then users”.
Half of Russian Internet traffic passes through unpresentable 19-storey building in the South-West of Moscow, where the country’s largest exchange point Internet traffic MSK-IX. This data center is a physical point of contact for more than 500 providers, connecting traffic to the West of Russia with the outside world. Under the new Russian law on “sovereignty” Internet service providers should be installed on each stage of the process, the black boxes, using deep packet inspection. With this technology it is possible to check, filter and redirect Internet traffic. In the new center of monitoring of the Internet the DPI will allow the Kremlin to take a closer look closely to all information incoming to Russia and coming from her. “We have no idea about the installed in Russia’s communication networks and cross-border connections. Who owns them, how they are used, what information there is, — said in February, one of the sponsors of the bill Andrei Lugovoi. — We create the centre will see it all online.” Using this technology, the Russian censors will create a parallel domain server, which in the case of a cyber attack would act as a backup Internet governance inside the country. It will also give the Kremlin the ability to a greater extent to monitor the network within the Russian boundaries because censorship is directly in the hands of the state. Russia will be able to improve its censorship, blocking not the entire servers, and only a few pages. If this is not possible, you can reduce the Internet speed for certain groups of users. “The more we have of sovereignty, including, in the digital realm, the better. This is a very important region,” Putin said. “It’s a doomsday device. If desired, you can turn your country into North Korea,” — said the scientist from Stanford Sanovich. But unlike China, which launched a censorship on the Internet many years ago, the Russian Internet is deeply integrated in the global network, and therefore a high risk of collateral damage. “It will be a powerful blow to the Russian economy and state. They all depend on the services of information technology,” says Sanovich.
Read more •••