Russia takes first steps to isolate Internet traffic from the rest of the world

Russia recently announced that it successfully tested its plans to isolate the country's Internet from the rest of the world that involved preventing external entities from intercepting domestic Internet traffic, collecting Russian citizens' personal data, or running disinformation campaigns on the web.

The tests were carried out as part of the Russian government's plans to quickly implement its new Sovereign Internet Law that empowers the government to isolate Russian Internet traffic from the rest of the world to prevent enemy countries from launching offensive cyber actions against Russia's digital assets.

The new law also enabled the Russian government to set up a national DNS system that would store details of all Russian IP addresses and internet domains. According to Russia Today, the law was enacted in response to the US government's threat of retaliating against anyone conducting cyber activity against the country.

According to Russian news agency Interfax, the tests were carried out in Moscow, Rostov, Vladimir and other constituencies within Russia as part of the government's willingness to "respond to the risks and threats of Runet’s stability and public communications networks."

The government said on Monday that the tests were carried out to see if it was possible to maintain the integrity and security of the Internet in Russia, to determine the security of Internet users, and the ability of the state to prevent external entities from intercepting domestic Internet traffic or collecting the personal data of Russian citizens.

"In general, both authorities and telecom operators are ready to effectively respond to emerging risks and threats, ensuring the stable functioning of both the Internet and the unified telecommunication network in Russia," said Alexei Sokolov, the Deputy Head of the Russian government's Ministry of Communications and Mass Media.

"It turned out that, in general, that both authorities and telecom operators are ready to effectively respond to possible risks and threats and ensure the functioning of the Internet and the unified telecommunication network in Russia.

"Of course, the scenarios that we worked out are not exhaustive in terms of the threats that we explored. We will continue such teachings and studies during 2020 and subsequent years," he added.

Russia's decision to isolate its internet traffic will further balkanize the global Internet

In 2016, Russia also enacted a new data protection law, popularly known as the Yarovaya law, that mandated telecom providers to store voice calls, data, images and text messages of Russian citizens for 6 months. It also requires all messaging services, email and social networks to allow the FSB, the equivalent of the UK's GCHQ, to access and read their encrypted communications.

According to Interfax, domestic telecom operators in Russia will also be legally required to to use the national domain zone and also use "exclusively domestic means of encrypting information" from 1 January, 2021.

Ryan Kalember, Executive Vice President of Cyber Security Strategy at Proofpoint, told TEISS that Russia’s focus on an autonomous Internet infrastructure is part of a larger global trend towards the balkanisation of the Internet.

"China’s Internet censorship is one of the most known examples, but restrictive governments all around the world have blocked access to major parts of the Internet for decades now. While the underlying protocols that make the Internet work remain open, there is nothing stopping governments from putting up walls that are quite difficult to get around if they can accept the economic consequences.

"For example, with restricted or no access to the World Wide Web, entrepreneurs within a country may struggle to innovate as they remain unaware of many of the world’s latest trends and practices.

"Additionally, Russia has historically been known to launch nation state attacks against targets across the world. If they are successful in cutting the entire country off from the global internet, they will have created a significant obstacle for countries looking to launch counter-cyber attacks," he added.

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