“It was pretty strange when Russia decided to announce last week that it had successfully run tests between June 15 and July 15 to show it could disconnect itself from the internet,” is an Associate Professor of Cybersecurity Policy at the Tufts Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
The tests were largely ignored within and outside of Russia, which suggests that whatever was involved was not a result of Russia’s being disconnected from the world’s web… because it would be difficult to conceal. Instead, the tests and, perhaps most importantly of all, the announcement of their success appear to be designed as a sort of signal that Russia is not dependent on the global community to get internet connectivity. However, it’s not evident what that could mean as Russia is still dependent on companies and individuals in other countries to have access to the online media and services they produce and host, exactly as we all are…
In the last two years, from the moment of the implementation of the country’s “sovereign internet law” in the year 2019, Russia has been discussing creating its own national internet that is not dependent upon any network or resource in other countries. It is likely that the tests conducted this summer have to do with the idea of being in a position to run a local website within Russia that does not rely upon the international Domain Name System to map websites to specific IP addresses. It isn’t an extremely ambitious goal; every country can operate its own internet using its own local address system, if it would like to do this in lieu of connecting to the web. The Center for Applied Internet Data Analysis at the University of California, San Diego provides an Internet outage Detection Tool and Analyzer that blends three sets of data to pinpoint internet outages across the globe. This set of data for Russia between June 15 and July 15, which is the time of the supposed tests for disconnection, shows no evidence of a disconnection, aside from a few days on July 5, when unrequested traffic coming from Russia is believed to have slowed down.
Whatever Russia did this summer, it didn’t physically disconnect from the internet. It doesn’t appear to be completely disconnected from the internet in any way. Maybe it switched one of its key infrastructure systems to depend more on local services and resources. Maybe it made local copies of the address system that is used to navigate the web and tested its capacity to rely on these. Perhaps it also tested its capability to direct traffic inside the country via specific chokepoints in order to provide more effective security and tracking. These are not activities that could be easily observed from outside the country , and all of them conform to Russia’s declared objectives of not relying on infrastructure for internet connectivity outside its borders and enhancing its capability to monitor online activities.
However, the idea of being completely devoid of the majority of the world’s internet infrastructure and still connected to the world wide web is an absurd and unattainable one. Russia is unable to completely disconnect from the internet but has access to all online services and also access to all the websites maintained and hosted by people from other parts of the world, which appears to have happened during the month-long period of tests. Disconnecting one’s country’s internet isn’t at all difficult, but it’s certainly not something to brag about. But to announce the fact that you’ve succeeded in disconnecting yourself from the internet when it’s clear that you have not, is a sign of an utter lack of technical expertise and a deeply-rooted uncertainty regarding what the local Russian internet really means.
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