Russia - Unplugged

The Russian government is talking about cutting their country off from the Internet amid the international and domestic backlash to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The move could isolate Russia further as firms including Netflix, Adobe, PayPal, and others have all suspended services.

Russia has also been considering a plan to temporarily disconnect from the Internet to assess how the country's cyber defenses would fare in the face of foreign aggression.

“The state must control this area completely. Of course, not from the point of view of restrictions or some kind of totalitarian control, but from the point of view of the realization of national interests," a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said last month.

Despite years of talk and research into closing Russia off to all outside Internet traffic, Zakharova said that “the ‘socket’ into which this ‘digital plug’ is plugged is located outside our homeland, very far away, and we do not control it.”

The Russian has previously said the government will build an “independent Internet” for use by itself, Brazil, India, China, and South Africa, the so-called BRICS nations, “in the event of global Internet malfunctions”.

Zakharova’s remarks were repeated by senator Alexei Pushkov, who said, “The sphere of the Internet and digital sovereignty are those areas, those areas where we must prepare for a possible negative scenario. Russia's disconnection from the global Internet, I would not rule out such a scenario.”

Since launching its attack on Ukraine, Russia has restricted or blocked Western social media companies. But the Kremlin has devoted more energy to persecuting expressions of dissent within Russia and making it impossible for independent media to function.

Russian officials started talking about the need to develop a closed Russian Internet more than half a decade ago and in 2016, the Russian military began work on what it called the Closed Data Transfer Segment, essentially a massive military Intranet. Also in 2019, Russia conducted some tests to see if it could disconnect from the global Internet. The government claimed that the tests were successful, but they offered few details.

Western military observers, such as NSA head Gen. Paul Nakasone have expressed skepticism that Russia would be able to completely disconnect from the global Internet. In 2019, Nakasone said at the RSA Conference, “While we take note of what they’re trying to do, I guess I would say I’m a bit skeptical that they will be able to pull this off.”

Russia remains, for now, highly connected and consequently increasingly vulnerable to attacks. In one indication that the country has considered a sovereign Internet, Moscow announced its intention to build an alternative to the global Domain Name System, a directory that translates Internet names into numbers for computers.

This isn't new. Russia has been trying for years to gain the power to unplug from the Internet. This would make it trivial to block social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, and western news sites including the New York Times and the BBC. This would also make it easier for the Russian government to surveil its citizens. And if Vladimir Putin is successful, people in Russia will only get their information from state-sponsored propaganda.

TASS:      NPR:     Bloomberg:    ZDNet:     Independent:    Metro:     DefenseOne

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