Russia Will Try Leaving The Global Internet

Russia will test its internal RuNet network to see whether the country can function without the global Internet. The tests will begin after November 1st and will recur at least annually, and possibly more frequently. 

It’s the latest move in a series of technical and policy steps intended to allow the Russian government to cut its citizens off from the rest of the world. The exercises follow April’s passage of the Internet Law that will require all Internet traffic in Russia to pass through official checkpoints, allowing the government to shut down foreign access.

The reason for the experiment is to gather insight and provide feedback and modifications to a proposed law introduced in the Russian Parliament last year. 

A first draft of the law mandated that Russian internet providers should ensure the independence of the Russian internet space (Runet) in the case of foreign aggression to disconnect the country from the rest of the internet. In addition, Russian telecom firms would also have to install "technical means" to re-route all Russian Internet traffic to exchange points approved or managed by Roskomnazor, Russia's telecom watchdog. 

Background
In 2016, Russia launched the Closed Data Transfer Segment: basically, a big military Intranet for classified data, similar to the Pentagon’s Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System. The following year, Russia said that it intends to build its own domain name directory, which would allow it to re-route Internet traffic.  Last year, Putin’s top IT advisor Herman Klimenko and others suggested that the military intranet, properly expanded, might be able to carry the rest of the country’s Internet traffic. 

Klimenko cautioned that moving to the new system would be painful, and as recently as March, Gen. Paul Nakasone, director of US Cyber Command and the NSA, expressed doubt that Russia would succeed. Samuel Bendett, an adviser at the CNA Corporation and a fellow in Russia studies at the American Foreign Policy Council, said the announcement shows that the Russian government wants to address any strategic vulnerability which is reliance on Western IT. 

“The larger context is Russia’s dependence as a nation on imported/foreign hi-tech and the perceived vulnerabilities that Russia sees in such technology use..... With so many government, public, and private-sector nodes using such foreign tech, the Russian government is seeking to impose a measure of control over how Internet communication over this technology is conducted,” Bendett said. 

“In the event of what the government sees as outside influence affecting RuNet, the state can act, hence the annual exercise.”

RuNet isn’t expected to improve the online experience for Russian people or companies. It’s all about control, making the country more technologically independent, and reducing the Putin regime’s vulnerability to popular uprising.
“The Russian government, particularly since seeing the role social media played in the Arab Spring, has wanted over the last decade to exert tight control over the online information space within Russia’s borders,” said Justin Sherman, a cybersecurity policy fellow at New America.

As the Russian government has built infrastructure that can disconnect Russia from the global Internet, it has also worked to limit Russian citizens’ access to sites and services that allow citizens to mobilise and protest. Access to services such as LinkedIn, Zello, and Telegram is limited by a 2006 Russian law that requires foreign companies to open their software to Russian security services and to hand user data to law enforcement agencies. Sherman said the passage of the sovereign internet law is one more item in this trend.

“When Russia passed its domestic internet bill into law, it wasn’t clear how much the government would actually work to make it happen, but now it’s clear they do intend to modify systems so the internet within Russian borders can be cut off from the global net at will,” Sherman said. 

“They also line up with a series of international pushes by authoritarian governments to make ‘cyber sovereignty’ of this kind more palatable to the global community.”

Euronews:     Defense One:        ZDNet:      

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