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A little later than its original planned date of April 1st 2019, a recent test-run has seen Russia successfully ‘unplug’ itself from the Internet and prove that it can create its own state-controlled Intranet.
Successfully Creating The ‘Runet’
The test, which was first announced back in February last year, is reported to have gone ahead without users noticing much difference and created what is effectively a giant, fully isolatable domestic intranet which has been dubbed the ‘Runet’.
Officially, the test to be able to pull up the drawbridge on the wider global internet is to ensure compliance with Russia’s new law called the Digital Economy National Program which came into force in November 2019. 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. For (state-owned) ISP’s, this will mean having to install deep packet inspection (DPI) network equipment which will allow Russia’s telecoms watchdog ‘Roskomnadzor’ to be able to identify traffic sources, filter content, and block certain sites. It has also been reported that, as part of the project to create and run the Runet, Russia is working on creating its own Internet address books.
Another official explanation for the value of the test to create the Runet is that it helped to show any vulnerabilities in the growing ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT).
Although this is the official explanation, some western commentators see this as a move towards tighter control and authoritarian rule in a way that is similar to some other countries. For example, China, which operates its own Great Firewall of China (GFW) for Internet censorship to block access to many foreign websites and to slow down and monitor cross-border internet traffic. Also, Iran operates its own National Information Network, run by the state-owned Telecommunication Company of Iran, which controls access to the web and polices content.
Difficult To Circumvent
Those thinking of circumventing the Runet and other censorship are likely to find it difficult as virtual private networks (VPNs) will not work with the Runet in place and many commentators think that it is likely that the Kremlin will try to stop access to end-to-end encrypted apps e.g. Telegram or WhatsApp.
It is likely that one good reason for Russia to be able to cut itself off from the wider Internet is to protect itself from cyber threats in what now appears to be an ongoing war of interference, misinformation, and cyber-attacks between many states. For example, Russia was shown to have interfered with the last U.S. presidential election and has itself been the subject of large-scale cyber-attacks. That said, the Chinese recently accused the U.S. of conducting “large-scale, organised and indiscriminate cyber theft” after it was revealed that since the 1970s, America’s CIA has been monitoring hundreds of countries via the Swiss cryptography firm Crypto AG.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
For the Russian government, being able to exert tight control and conduct censorship on this scale, and to operate through a small number of state-owned suppliers not only guards against misinformation and cyber threats but also gives the government the opportunity to wield immense political power over its people. The move is, obviously, being greeted with suspicion and criticism from the west, with concern about the rights of Russian citizens.
Also, for non-Russian companies hoping to do business there, an inward-looking, state-controlled Intranet that favours Russian companies, particularly with tech and communications products and services would make trade there very difficult. Many western commentators are now worried that Russia may be going the same way as China in terms of censorship and access to the world by digital means.