Russia Unplugged: Will Russia Shut Down Its Internet?
The internet is a vital tool for communicating and conducting business. It’s also a powerful tool for spreading misinformation, blackmailing people, and undermining the rule of law. That’s why some authoritarian regimes around the world have been working to cut off their people from the global internet. Even without an active effort to censor the internet, government restrictions mean that it’s not always accessible in every corner of the world. But with an active internet blackout, access to information and even communication via phone, radio, and other methods could be all but impossible.
President Biden has already laid out several options for punishing Russia for invading Ukraine, including disruptive cyberattacks. In addition, sanctions experts have discussed cutting off countries from the global internet to stifle unrest in domestic regions. However, Russia has been preparing for just such a scenario. Vladimir Putin signed the Sovereign Internet Law in 2019, which gives the Russian government more control over internet content and allows them to combat any threats against the stability and security of the internet in the country.
From mid-June to mid-July of 2021, Russia disconnected itself from the internet so that it could test its defenses. Websites with the .ru domain have only been available periodically since Russia invaded Ukraine. U.S. tech companies such as Microsoft and Oracle have abandoned sales, Visa and Mastercard also shut down operations in Russia, leaving Russians unable to pay for any services (i.e. Facebook[Meta]) that keep them from being blocked by their government’s censorship.
Is Russia Putting an End to Its Internet?
Currently, Russia requires Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to connect to DNS servers managed by Roskomnadzor to provide internet access to Russian users. However, the Russian government is working on developing its version of the internet, known as RuNet. RuNet is a state-controlled intranet that is not connected to the global internet. RuNet would allow the Russian government to have complete control over the information that its citizens can access.
It would also allow the Russian government to monitor and track the online activity of its citizens. Russia would not be the first country to have its version of the internet, despite the many fears of internet regulators. Iranians and North Koreans are also severely restricted from accessing the internet externally, and China built an insulated internet many years ago, dubbed the “Great Firewall”.
A Russian Strategy: Controlling the Narrative of Information
On March 11, 2022, state-owned portals were ordered by the Russian government to connect to its state-controlled root DNS servers. This change would have directed Russian users away from the global internet and onto a separate, walled-off intranet; a “closed zone.” The Russian government says this is for the country’s security, but it would also allow Russian officials to better control the narrative of information within the country. This is only one of the many ways that the Russian government has been working to control the internet within its borders. It has also been investing in developing its software and hardware so that it can be less reliant on foreign technology.
Is Russia Looking for Protection Against Cyberattacks?
Russia has released statements denying that the plan is to cut itself off from the global internet. Russian officials continue to state that any tests that have been conducted are just a way to protect Russian websites from foreign cyberattacks. Because almost all of the threat groups have sided with Ukraine during this war, this is a plausible explanation.
However, there have been questions about whether this move will be useful and feasible. Taking down Russia’s internet infrastructure from the global internet would be regarded as a defensive move, although there is plenty of room for interpretation. Moreover, it is unclear whether Russia meets the technical requirements for an effective disconnection.
What Would Be the Impact of Russia Shutting Down Its Internet?
If Russia is successful at shutting down its internet? What impact would it have? To those who were depending on free and open internet access, it would have a profound impact. The shuttering of the internet would have a major impact on the ability of people to access information. It would be difficult to impossible to access news sites, social media platforms, and other sources of information. This would create an environment of information isolation where people would only be able to get their news from state-approved sources.
The internet shutdown would also have a major impact on freedom of expression. The ability to freely express one’s opinion online would be severely limited, if not impossible. This would have a chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas and open communication. Workplace communication and collaboration would be severely impacted as email, instant messaging, and video conferencing platforms would no longer be accessible.
Many Russian businesses rely on the internet to conduct their operations and would be forced to shut down if the internet was shut off. As we are currently in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) driven world, without the internet much of the business world would come to a screeching halt. For western companies, it would be difficult to maintain business continuity if their Russian counterparts were unable to access the internet.
If Russia shuts down its internet, the country will be isolated digitally and economically. This would be a major setback for the country and would have a ripple effect on the global economy. Digital transformation and the free flow of information are essential for a thriving global economy. Russia’s efforts to control the internet are a direct threat to both.
What do you think? Would a Russian-only internet be a good thing or a bad thing? What impact do you think it would have on the global economy? While the rest of the world moves toward a better digital age, would Russia’s internet shutdown be a step backward? Will the rest of the world cut off Russia before it has a chance to cut itself off?
The Alvarez Technology Group would love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to reach out to us!