Russia has set itself a deadline of 1st April to test “unplugging” the entire country from the global Internet for reasons relating to defence and control.
Giant Intranet Dubbed “Runet”
The impending test of a complete ‘pulling up of the drawbridge’ from the rest of the world is being planned in order to ensure compliance with a new (draft) law in Russia called the Digital Economy National Program. This will require Russia’s ISPs to show that they can operate in the event of any foreign powers acting to isolate the country online with a “targeted large-scale external influence” i.e. a cyber-attack.
The plan, which is being overseen by Natalya Kasperskaya, co-founder of Kaspersky the antivirus company and former wife of CEO Eugene, will mean that Russia can unplug from the wider Internet, and create its own internal ‘Intranet’ (the ‘Runet’) where data can still pass between Russian citizens and organisations from inside the nation rather than being routed internationally.
Moving Router Points Inside Russia
A move of this scale involves attempting to move the country’s key router points inside Russia. This means that ISPs will have to show that they can direct all Internet traffic entering and leaving Russia through state-controlled routing points, whereby traffic can be filtered so that, if required, traffic destined for outside Russia is discarded, and attempts to launch cyber-attacks on Russia can be more easily detected and thwarted.
Own Version of DNS
Other measures needed to give Russia the ability to completely unplug include building its own version of the net’s DNS address system. This is currently overseen by 12 organisations outside Russia, but copies of the net’s core address book now exist inside Russia.
Russia has been implicated in many different international incidents that could provoke cyber-attack reprisals and misinformation interference. For example, the alleged interference in US presidential election campaign and UK referendum, and the Novichok attack in Salisbury. There has also been deterioration of the relationship between the US and Russia, and widespread criticism of Russia in the western media.
Censorship and Control?
Even though the word from Russia is that the ability to ‘unplug’ is for defence from external aggression, many commentators see it as a move to be able to exert more state control in a way that is perhaps similar that seen in China with its extensive firewall.
In Russia, control of social media could, for example, thwart attempts from the people to organise mass protests against Putin, such as those seen in 2011-13.
Also, the ability to control what people can see and say online can mean that websites that promote anti-state views and information can be blacklisted. It has been reported that there is already an extensive blacklist of banned websites and that Russia now requires popular bloggers to register with the state. There have also been reports of Russians facing fines and jail for social media posts that have been judged to have ridiculed the Kremlin or Orthodox Church.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Business and trade tend to benefit from open channels of communication, and when states move to shut down communication channels in this way, it prevents the promotion and advertising of products, creates costs and bureaucracy, and damages the prospects and competitiveness of those organisations exporting to and from Russia. This kind of communications shutdown may be useful for the purposes of the state, but it can only really be harmful for international trade, and for those businesses within Russia itself looking to sell overseas.
Anything that portrays the image of a controlling and/or inward-looking state can also damage industries such as tourism and can make companies in those states appear to be risky to deal with.