Russia’s Web Blackout Threat
Steaming full ahead like a Soviet locomotive, Russia has promised by 2020, 95% of its internet traffic will be delivered by domestic servers. Abroad, Putin’s rhetoric on the subject borders on delusion and a deep-seated requirement to secure the state from outside cybercrime – infractions Washington has already accused him of. But is the West really guilt-free?
Sources at Rosbizneskansalting (RBK) reported earlier in the year that the Russian government announced it intended to disconnect the country from Runet, the country’s internal internet, sometime before April. To outside observers, and those opposed to Putin’s authoritarian rule in the country, the law seems harsh while mandating that Russian IPs (internet providers) should safeguard the Runet from outside cyber threats.
This willingness for isolation in the face of the ongoing menace of cybercrime, misinformation and fake news shows that Putin and his Kremlin buddies feel confident that sooner, rather than later, Russia will manage to be a self-sufficient entity in the information superhighway.
The disconnection is seen as a temporary measure, which will lead to – if successful – a permanent state of affairs. Both private and state telecoms within the country are reported to be involved in the controlled shutdown, with Natalya Kaspersky — Kaspersky Lab antivirus co-founder — at the head of the group. With paranoia setting in the corridors of the Kremlin — much like those in the White House and Downing Street— Russia’s chief lawmakers are worried the West’s accusations of Moscow’s hacking of them could lead very quickly to odious cyber countermeasures by Washington and London. The move to disconnect the Web is seen by some to speed up Russia’s isolation.
If the bill is successful, it would then necessitate the telecom companies to rechannel internet traffic via routing points under the jurisdiction of the Kremlin. Such a move would see the circulation of information abroad slowed down or completely halted at the Russian state’s whim.
The cost of such actions, many experts have said, would be prohibitively expensive and impractical and could, with all likelihood, lead to a considerable disturbance in the operation of the internet within the country.
Not something Russian businesses, and the average man on the street, want to see for sure.
The issue of censorship and what it may steer towards with the power that Aleksandr Zharov, head of the Roskomnadzor — the federal executive body responsible for state censorship — has and how it will be used if the bill goes through is an interesting one.
Roskomnadzor has recently handed over lists of sites it wants Google to block in the country. Up to this point, however, it is not know how many of these sites have exactly been blocked, but some numbers talked about are over 75%.
One downside of these moves is the strain it will have on the Kremlin coffers. To assist Roskomnadzor carry out the sovereign internet legislation will rely heavily on funds from the country’s budget. Against this, however, is the state audit chamber, which believes the action will see an inevitable rise in services and consumer goods in stores, not to mention the huge amount of money required to bring in more staff to Roskomnadzor to execute the job and pay for the technology needed.
Again, hitting the average man on the street.
Notwithstanding the audit chamber, there are other organizations out there with a dissenting voice: Pavel Chikov, head and founder of Kazan-based human rights organization Agora, has said: ‘the bill is a serious threat to internet freedom.’
Right or wrong, Chikov’s words speak some truth. But maybe this is what Russia needs to tighten up its security measures and expel any thoughts the West has of interfering in the country through cyber means.
The move is seen as mirroring the policies of Russia’s giant neighbour, China, and its great firewall, which blocks major sites like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
With all this hullabaloo coming out from Moscow, and Trump and his western allies throwing the culpability of cyberattacks straight at Putin for some time now, it is no surprise Washington is intimidating Moscow with talk of more sanctions.
Blame for the Kremlin’s supposedly dark arts in hacking has come under the microscope of late for a number of incidents, with the World Anti-Doping Agency scandal and Russia’s ‘so-called’ Democratic party’s computer networks hacking being two of the most high-profile cases that Washington accuses Russia of.
Censorship Works Both Ways
However, it must work both ways, but typing in ‘American government hacking of Russia’ or ‘British cyberattacks of Kremlin’, for example, bring zero results on Google. It is difficult to find a search result on American cyberattacks on Russia.
Here is a list of the first five results of page one of the Google search for ‘American government hacking of Russia’:
Russia: We did not hack the US Democrats. But if we did, we’re immune from prosecution… lmaoHackers are lethal weapons, as in diplomatic… oh forget it: Source: The Register
US Government Accuses Russia of Election HackingAttribution: Information Warfare Ties to ‘Russia’s Senior-Most Officials’: Source: Bank Info Security
How America should respond to Russia’s alleged hacking: Source: Fifth Domain
With hacking of US utilities, Russia could move from cyberespionage toward cyberwar: Source: The Conversation
Russia-linked hackers attacked governments in Europe and Latin America, The hacking group, known as Fancy Bear or APT28, interfered in 2016 presidential election. Source: Vox
I wanted to do the same for ‘British cyberattacks of the Kremlin’, but the results were similar so far down it wasn’t worth it. So I didn’t waste your time.
So, Washington and London are playing similar ‘dark arts’ with Russia, and it seems in collusion with Google and its censorship of — or complete exclusion of — phrases, news, etc. of any news regarding cyber attacks on Russia or its allies.
Both Russia and the West are guilty parties.
Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, travelled to the Hungarian capital, Budapest, recently in an attempt to curb Russia’s and China’s control over Europe. Speaking to Viktor Orban, the country’s prime minister - and a man whose relationship with the Kremlin is cordial — the American politician wanted to repeat warnings to Orban about his nation’s reliability on Russia for its energy. This meeting is probably a Trump strategy to regain a foothold in Europe and counter Russia’s growing influence in the region.
Whatever happens in the future, Putin, quite rightly, sees the move as something that will guarantee his country’s security in the face of the growing phenomena of cybercrime and fake news spread by the search engines and the internet. If the measures work long term is anybody ’s guess. Yet, if they do, and Russia and its satellites find security through cyber censorship, maybe others — the United States and its many western allies — may follow suit.