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Russia may cut itself off from the global internet because of ‘continuous cyberattacks’

Russia is being attacked by groups like Anonymous and private companies are pulling services, but there are reportedly ‘no plans to disconnect the internet from inside’

Adam Smith
Wednesday 09 March 2022 10:04 GMT
(Getty Images)

Russia is reportedly planning to disconnect itself from Western internet services as technology companies block off the country during the invasion of Ukraine.

The move could isolate Russia further as firms including Netflix, Adobe, PayPal, and others have all suspended services.

Now, two documents published by the Ministry of Digital Development outline measures the Russian government wants state-owned websites to take to “coordinate actions to defend telecommunication services on the internet.”

This includes switching from foreign hosting services to those based in Russia, and removing code that did not originate in the country.

However, rather than an internal action, the Russian state has suggested that this is a measure to be taken in the wake of cyberattacks that could harm government websites.

Such attacks have already been made on Kremlin websites, which were taken down by the hacking group Anonymous. Russian TV channels were also “hacked to play Ukrainian songs”, with the group declaring that it was “at war” with Russia.

“There are continuous cyberattacks on Russian sites from abroad. We are preparing for different scenarios. There are no plans to disconnect the internet from inside,” said Andrey Chernenko, the ministry’s deputy director, as reported by Motherboard.

Russia made an attempt to disconnect from the global internet in 2019 via the ‘sovereign Internet law’, which would also give the government much more control over the internet – similar to China’s ‘Great Firewall’.

Later tests made in June and July 2021, which were reportedly successful, to be used “in case of external distortions, blocks and other threats.”

Ukraine’s digital minister has made calls for Russia to be removed from the internet, demanding that Russia is sectioned off from the global internet entirely.

This request was denied by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which said that “the internet is a decentralized system” and that its “mission does not extend to taking punitive actions, issuing sanctions, or restricting access against segments of the internet – regardless of the provocations”.

Nevertheless, private internet providers like Cogent Communications and Lumen have been shutting out Russian customers, citing “economic sanctions” and “the increasingly uncertain security situation”.

Yet experts have warned that disconnecting Russian citizens from the internet will do little to hamper president Putin, but will cause significant harm to everyday people.

“I am very afraid of this,” said Mikhail Klimarev, executive director of the Internet Protection Society, told the Washington Post.

“I would like to convey to people all over the world that if you turn off the internet in Russia, then this means cutting off 140 million people from at least some truthful information. As long as the internet exists, people can find out the truth. There will be no internet – all people in Russia will only listen to propaganda.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation also agreed, stating that the decision sets a dangerous precedent, compromises security and privacy for users, and undermines trust in the networks and policies upon which the internet is built.

“Internet providers shouldn’t help the Russian government, or any government, keep people within an information bubble”, they added.

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