Russia networks concept art

Russia to trial disconnection from Internet

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In preparation for plans to route almost all Internet traffic through Russian servers, the Russian government and internet service providers (ISPs) are preparing for a test, in which the local Internet space (the “Runet”) will be separated from the wider Internet.

The short experiment will be carried out in preparation for a proposed law – the Digital Economy National Program – which was formally introduced to the Russian Parliament in December 2018. The legislation proposes that Russian ISPs must be able to ensure the independence of the Runet to protect the country from hostile state-backed cyberattacks.

The new law will require Russian telecommunications companies to introduce technical solutions to re-route Russian Internet traffic through exchange points managed or approved by the Russian telecommunications regulator, Roskomnazor. Roskamnazor will inspect Internet traffic flowing into the country to ensure that forbidden content cannot be accessed, and that traffic sent between Russians is not routed outside the country where it could be vulnerable to interception.

The Russian government has agreed to cover the costs of ISPs adapting their infrastructure for the change, and to install new servers for an approved exchange point.

The eventual goal of the project is for Internet traffic to be fully filtered – much like the “Great Firewall of China” – while rendering the Runet detachable from the wider Internet for security purposes.

The project has been under discussion for years; in 2014, a local backup of the Domain Name System was tested for the first time and in 2017, Russian government officials announced that the fraction of domestic traffic in the Runet routed through foreign servers would decrease from 60 per cent to five per cent by 2020. In some parts of Russia, routing is only possible through foreign servers; for instance in Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea separated from the rest of the country.

According to news agency RosBiznesKonsalting (RBK), the Russian government and major ISPs are expected to carry out a test in which ISPs will essentially disconnect the country from the wider Internet. The test will provide insights about current threats, data about how ISP networks would react to enforced isolation from the wider Internet, and feedback for the law.

The test is expected to take place before 1 April, the deadline for submitting amendments to the Digital Economy National Program legislation. It was agreed upon by the Information Security Working Group, which includes major Russian telecommunications companies.

According to Natalya Kasperskaya, co-founder and former CEO of Kaspersky Lab, who sits on the working group, all participants agreed to the test and to the aims of the Digital Economy National Program, but disagreed about mechanisms for its implementation, which remain unresolved. She said that the companies would need to carry out their own exercises to understand how this isolation of the Runet could be secured in practice with minimal disruption to citizens and government agencies.

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