by Zak Doffman
Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the Russian Internet (RuNet) into law to protect the country’s communications infrastructure in case it was disconnected from the world wide web—or so he said. Critics argued it was opening a door to a Chinese-style firewall disconnecting Russia from the outside world.
Now, Alexander Zharov, the head of the federal communications regulator Roskomnadzor has confirmed to reporters that “equipment is being installed on the networks of major telecom operators,” and RuNet will begin testing by early October. Such testing, reporters were told, is known as “combat mode.”
When the legislation was introduced there was some debate as to whether it would work in practice. The government claimed its objective was to deal with “threats to the stable, safe and integral operation of the Russian Internet on Russian territory,” by centralizing “the general communications network.” This would works by deploying an alternative domain name system (DNS) for Russia to steer its web traffic away from international servers. ISPs are mandated to comply.
The Moscow Times reported at the time that “Russia carried out drills in mid-2014 to test the country’s response to the possibility of its internet being disconnected from the web—the secret tests reportedly showed that isolating the Russian internet is possible, but that ‘everything’ would go back online within 30 minutes.”
As for this “combat testing,” Zharov has assured that everything will be done “carefully,” according to local media reports, explaining that “we will first conduct a technical check—affects traffic, does not affect traffic, do all services work.” The plan is for all of this testing to be completed by the end of October.
Although the regulator has been keen to emphasise that RuNet is only for deployment when the system its perceived to be “in danger,” there is a clear question as to where and how such a decision would be taken. Such threats have been classified as “impacts to the integrity of networks, the stability of networks, natural or man-made impacts, or security threats,” all pretty wide-ranging classifiers.
Russia’s recent moves to shut down cellular data traffic to stymie anti-Putin protesters and government warnings that social media access may be curtailed have not brought much confidence to its tech savvy citizens.
Runet is due to go live in November. According to Freedom On The Net, “Russian internet freedom has declined for the sixth year in a row, following government efforts to block the popular messaging app Telegram and numerous legislative proposals aimed at restricting online anonymity and increasing censorship.”
And there are no signs of that getting any better any time soon.