Russia takes further steps towards Splinternet

In the context: Over the past two weeks, Russian netizens have been increasingly denied access to online services such as Facebook, Twitter, global news sites and streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. However, it could accelerate the Russian government’s plan to create a “sovereign Internet” and fundamentally change the way Russians connect to and access information from the rest of the world.

Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor forced This week, Google will remove tens of thousands of search results that link to resources used by Russians to circumvent bans on certain news sites and social media platforms.

Internet users in the country are flocking to VPN services to access limited sources of information, according to one analysis. grade that the demand for the top 10 VPN apps increased by 1092% between February 24 and March 9.

Another research firm reports that the total number of downloads on Google Play and the Apple App Store over the past week has exceeded 4.6 million – an increase of 4.375% compared to the week before the start of the military conflict in Ukraine.

While the surge in demand for VPNs is not unexpected, the Russian authorities are already taking steps to tighten internet blocking. They have yet to be banned from VPNs, but they ordered Google will remove thousands of VPN related URLs from search results and the number of requests is growing every day.

Over the past few years, Russia has been exploring ways to create what it calls “sovereign internet”, where authorities can block VPN traffic at the network level, censor the “internal Internet”, and even cut it off from the outside world. Recently, the Russian state created its own domestic equivalent of a trusted TLS CA to aid in its efforts to intercept encrypted web traffic.

Of course, the deep level of monitoring and filtering of Internet traffic envisaged by Russia is a massive undertaking that cannot be done overnight. But the ongoing military conflict in Ukraine and a flurry of sanctions imposed by Western governments and companies have only accelerated plans to separate the Russian Internet sphere from the rest of the world.

Image: Christian Colin

US ISPs such as Cogent have begun shutting down Russian clients that rely on them to channel their data streams across the Internet backbone, supposedly fearing state-sponsored cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns. Companies such as Cloudflare, which are trying to speed up the Internet and protect it from various types of threats, believe that shutting down all services in the country is not the best idea if the goal is to allow Russian citizens to see through propaganda.

In any case, it is becoming increasingly difficult for online technology companies to decide how – and if – they want to manage the flow of information. A complete withdrawal from Russia would allow its government to centralize network management and lead to further fragmentation of the Internet. This phenomenon, also known as the Splinternet, would deprive Russian citizens of a powerful tool for sharing information, combating misinformation and connecting with people who have a different view of the world.

The Russian Ministry of Digital Technologies, Telecommunications and Mass Media says it has no plans to cut Russia off from the rest of the Internet. However, his “sovereign Internet” legislation allows Roskomnadzor to interfere with how Russia’s ecosystem of more than 5,000 autonomous networks interacts with the global Internet, including shutting down its own Runet from it entirely if deemed necessary.

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