Russia has announced plans to temporarily “disconnect” itself from the global Internet. What does this mean for Russia, its citizens, and the rest of the world that is connected to the World Wide Web?
Russia is not the first country to disconnect the Internet. In January the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo turned off its Internet during the presidential elections there. And China has heavily filtered the Internet for years to limit what its citizens are able to find on the Internet.
This Russian disconnection is supposed to be an exercise to test their ability to protect the country from an all-out cyber-attack or cyber war campaign. It is also a prelude to the eventual establishment of an independent Russian Internet (RuNet) that controls the ingress and egress points to the global Internet through a series of gateways controlled by Roskomnazor, Russia’s telecom agency. From a security standpoint, this could look like a nation-state sized implementation of a giant web filter, DNS proxy, or web application firewall (WAF). Sort of like Cloudflare for an entire country. Sort of like China.
This is an advancement of a series of Russia initiatives relative to the Internet. In 2014 Russia passed a law that required Internet and other companies that collect personal data about Russian citizens to store the information within Russian borders. (Sites like LinkedIn, that refused to comply, were blocked.) And Russia has been developing its own alternative to the Domain Name System (DNS), so that it can route Internet traffic by itself.
Russia’s Information Security Working Group is supervising the disconnection experiment. One of its members is Natalya Kaspersky, the co-founder of Kaspersky Lab. (Kaspersky products have been banned on US governmental computers and networks over claims that the Russian government used Kaspersky Lab products to spy on computers in the US and elsewhere.) This test is supposed to take place before April 1.
This could mean that Russia would be able to control what Russian computer users would be able see and do on the Internet. This change, should it come to fruition, will make Russia more like China, with it’s Great Wall of the Internet.
The problem that Russia faces is that the Internet works as a distributed platform. If one route goes down, traffic is merely moved to another route. Russia may find it is hard to disentangle all of the different tentacles, and still have a functioning Internet. Russian web sites may rely on resources located elsewhere, such as a database on Amazon Web Services, a Facebook based form, and Google advertising and tracking platforms. Russian would need to develop or duplicate these resources with the Russian network system.
The Internet was created by the United States, and it still contains the majority of the control structure, and American companies own a majority of the Internet infrastructure, even outside of the US. This includes fiber optic cables and satellite connections, routers, switches servers, and data centers all over the globe. Russian may feel that their connections to the Internet are threatened by an over-reliance on American controlled infrastructure, especially since Russia has recently been fingered along with the North Koreans and Chinese as a major source of cyber-attacks on the US.
I will be keeping an eye on this experiment, and report anything of interest in a future post.
- Using DNS Proxies for Security
- Scary Kaspersky Stories – Ghost in the Machine
- Tech Republic
- PC Magazine