Russia cuts itself off from the internet

12 April 2019 | Natalie Bannerman

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Russia has passed a bill that will allow it to cut off the country’s internet traffic from foreign servers.

The controversial new bill will require all internal internet traffic to be carried within the country’s own networks. Any traffic that leaves Russia would have to go thorough registered internet exchange points, regulated by the country’s communications regulator Roskomnadzor.

The measures would create technology to monitor internet routing and direct Russian internet traffic away from foreign severs, effectively isolating the country from the global internet.

“This law creates a framework whereby ISPs will be required to funnel all Internet traffic in and out of the country through well-known choke points (Internet Exchanges), explained Ameet Naik, technical marketing manager, ThousandEyes.

“This would make it easier for the authorities to expand Internet censorship, and isolate the nation from the global Internet under times of conflict. However, this would also force Internet traffic through suboptimal paths, and through performance-limiting filtering gateways. This would most likely degrade the user experience for Russian users browsing sites and apps outside the country, and provide an advantage to services hosted within the country, as we’ve seen happen in China.”

The bill was passed in a vote 320 to 15 in the State Duma, parliament’s lower house. Lawmakers believe that the move will improve the country’s cybersecurity and comes almost a year after President Trump revealed his own cybersecurity strategy for the US.

“The bill’s popular name, the Chinese Firewall, has nothing to do with our initiative,” said Leonid Levin, a lawmaker from the ruling United Russia party.

The decision has come under much scrutiny with many dubbing the initiative as a “sovereign internet” bill. In response, more than 15,000 activists rallied in Moscow protesting the passing of the bill, for fear of further censorship and stifling freedom of speech.

“It’s a bill on digital slavery and the introduction of censorship for the web,” said Sergei Ivanov, a member of the nationalist Liberal-Democratic party to The Guardian.

Interestingly, Yandex, the Russian search engine, has been experiencing a number of high-profile DDoS attacks specifically designed to cripple the internet-filtering infrastructure it has in place. According to figures from ThousandEyes, Yandex has seen a number of packet loss events over the last few weeks.

Packet loss at Yandex’s peering point at an Internet exchange in Amsterdam affecting reachability from Sweden and France.

[Figure above: Packet loss at Yandex’s peering point at an Internet exchange in Amsterdam affecting reachability from Sweden and France.]

“These incidents have the signature of one of two things. They were either a massive DDoS attack targeted at yandex.ru from around the globe, or they were a test of a new filtering infrastructure designed to create well-defined choke points into Yandex’s network, in preparation for the new regulations,” said ThousandEyes in its report.

Packet loss from multiple vantage points around the globe attempting to reach yandex.ru.

[Figure above: Packet loss from multiple vantage points around the globe attempting to reach yandex.ru.]

The bill will need to be approved by President Vladimir Putin in order for it to be passed but may be well on its way to becoming law by 1 November 2019.