Russia has successfully tested a country-wide alternative to the worldwide internet, its government has announced. Details of what the test involved were vague but, consistent with the Ministry of Communications, ordinary users didn’t notice any changes.
The results will now be presented to President Putin. Experts remain concerned about the trend for a few countries to dismantle the web.”Sadly, the Russian direction of travel is simply another step within the increasing breaking-up of the web,” said Prof Alan Woodward, a scientist at the University of Surrey.
“Increasingly, authoritarian countries which want to regulate what citizens see are watching what Iran and China have already done.”It means people won’t have access to dialogue about what’s happening in their own country, they’re going to be kept within their own bubble.”
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How would a domestic internet work?
The initiative involves restricting the points at which Russia’s version of the internet connects to its global counterpart, giving the govt more control over what its citizens can access.
“That would effectively get ISPs [internet service providers] and telcos to configure the web within their borders as a big intranet, a bit like an outsized corporation does,” explained Prof Woodward.
So how would the govt establish what some have dubbed a “sovereign Runet”?
Countries receive foreign web services via undersea cables or “nodes” – connection points at which data is transmitted to and from other countries’ communication networks. These would wish to be blocked or a minimum of regulated.
This would require the co-operation of domestic ISPs and would be much easier to realize if there have been just a couple of state-owned firms involved. The more networks and connections a rustic has, the harder it’s to regulate access.
Then Russia would wish to make an alternate system.
In Iran, the National Information Network allows access to web services while policing all content on the network and limiting external information. it’s travel by the state-owned Telecommunication Company of Iran.
One of the advantages of effectively turning all internet access into a government-controlled walled garden is that virtual private networks (VPNs), often wont to circumvent blocks, wouldn’t work.
Another example of this is often the so-called Great Firewall of China. It blocks access to several foreign internet services, which successively has helped several domestic tech giants establish themselves.
Russia already tech champions of its own, like Yandex and Mail.Ru, but other local firms may additionally benefit. The country plans to make its own Wikipedia and politicians have passed a bill that bans the sale of smartphones that don’t have Russian software pre-installed.
One expert warned that the policy could help the state repress free speech, but added that it had been not a foregone conclusion that it might succeed.
“The Russian government has run into technical challenges within the past when trying to extend online control, like its largely unsuccessful efforts to dam Russians from accessing encrypted messaging app Telegram,” Justin Sherman, a cyber-security policy fellow at the New America think factory, told the BBC.
“Without more information about this test though, it’s hard to assess exactly how far Russia has progressed within the path towards an isolatable domestic internet.”And on the business front, it remains to be seen just what proportion domestic and foreign pushback Russia will get.”
Local news agencies, including Pravda, reported the deputy head of the Ministry of Communications had said that the tests of the scheme had gone as planned.
“The results of the exercises showed that, generally, both the authorities and telecom operators are able to effectively answer emerging risks and threats, to make sure the stable functioning of both the web and unified telecommunication network within Russia,” said Alexey Sokolov.
The state-owned Tass press agency reported the tests had assessed the vulnerability of internet-of-things devices, and also involved an exercise to check Runet’s ability to face up to “external negative influences”.