The lower house of the Russian parliament recently passed a new law that allows the government to isolate Russia from the Internet to prevent enemy countries from launching offensive cyber actions against Russia's digital assets.
The basic purpose behind the bill is to ensure that Russian citizens can continue to use the Internet even if other nations deliberately disconnect the Internet to harm Russia. The bill will also enable the Russian government to set up a national DNS system that would store details of all Russian IP addresses and internet domains.
"The new legislation was drafted in response to the new US cyber strategy that accuses Russia, along with China, Iran, and North Korea, of using cyber tools to “undermine” its economy and democracy," noted Russia Today, adding that the US government has promised dire consequences for anyone conducting cyber activity against the country.
In order to bring its own DNS system into fruition, Russia enacted a new data protection legislation, popularly known as the Yarovaya law, in 2016 which mandates 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.
Russia forcing firms to store citizens' data in Russian data centres
Using the Yarovaya law, the Russian government banned Telegram in April last year after the company failed to hand over encryption keys to the FSB. In January this year, Roskomnadzor, Russia's communication watchdog, also filed a legal case against Facebook and Twitter, claiming that the two companies had failed to explain how they planned to abide by the legal requirement of storing Russians' personal data in data centres located within Russia.
In 2017, the Russian government also passed a bill that empowered it to ban all virtual proxy networks as well as Tor operating in Russia. While it remains to be seen if the ban will be implemented successfully, it is certainly one of the many actions Russia is taking to ensure it can isolate domestic digital assets in emergency situations.
"Russia’s VPN ban is futile. If China with its powerful censorship technology hasn’t been able to completely block cleverly-obfuscated VPN traffic, what hope does Russia have with its manual approach?” said Simon Migliano, Head of Research at Top10VPN.com.
"Nevertheless, it’s yet another example of governments around the world, both authoritarian and supposedly democratic, intensifying their efforts to control the internet. Freedoms that we have come to take for granted are under increasing threat," he added.