Russia successfully disconnected from the global internet during tests in June and July, Russian business newspaper RBC Daily reported on Thursday, July 22, citing documents from the working group tasked with improving Russia’s internet security.
In late 2019, Russia adopted legislation known as the “sovereign internet” law that seeks to shield the country from being cut off from foreign infrastructure. It was Russia’s answer to the alleged “aggressive nature” of the United States’ national cybersecurity strategy.
The legislation tightened Moscow’s control over the global network and caused consternation among free speech activists, who feared the move would strengthen government oversight of the country’s cyberspace.
Tests involving all Russia’s major telecoms firms were held from June 15 to July 15 and were successful based on preliminary results, a source in the working group told RBC. “The purpose of the tests is to determine the ability of the ‘Runet’ to work in case of external distortions, blocks and other threats,” the source said.
Runet refers to the Russian-language community on the internet, or simply the internet in the Russian language.
Another RBC source said the capability of physically disconnecting the Russian part of the internet was tested. It was not immediately clear how long the disconnection lasted or whether there were any noticeable disruptions to internet traffic.
The law stipulates that tests be carried out every year. The first exercises were held in December 2019. In 2020, such exercises were supposed to be held once a quarter: March 20, June 20, September 20 and December 20. However, they were called off due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Kremlin was aware of the tests, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, describing them as timely and saying that Russia had to be ready for anything. The legislation seeks to route Russian web traffic and data through points controlled by state authorities and build a national Domain Name System to allow the internet to continue working even if Russia is cut off.
In June 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow had to ensure that Runet could function in a reliable way to guard against servers outside of Russia’s control being switched off and compromising their operations in the process.
State communications regulator Roskomnadzor said the tests were aimed at improving the integrity, stability and security of Russia’s internet infrastructure, RBC reported. (Related: Russia preparing for future cyber attacks, readies own web in case of internet shutdown.)
It said the equipment installed as part of the tests had been used by Roskomnadzor to slow down the speed of social network Twitter since March over a failure to delete content deemed illegal by Moscow.
In January 2011, Egypt vanished from the global internet for nine days.
This form of control over the internet is commonly known as an internet shutdown or an internet kill switch – an action undertaken by a government to stop all internet activity in the whole country. Myanmar did it in 2007, as did Nepal two years earlier.
Russia has discussed the subject since 2013. The legal basis for an internet shutdown in Russia stems from a set of laws passed by the government between 2012 and 2018 to comprehensively regulate the internet infrastructure in the country.
In September 2014, Putin and the Security Council of the Russian Federation proposed a plan for the Kremlin to shut down Runet in the event of a national security threat, such as a military confrontation or antigovernment protests. Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, claimed that the government only intends to protect Runet from “unpredictable actions of the West.”
U.S. officials also debated the subject. Between 2009 and 2011, the U.S. Senate discussed three bills (S.773, S.3480 and S.413) and a White House Proposal. They were meant to allow the president or another civil servant to shut down the internet when the critical infrastructure (CI), interconnected via the internet, is the target of a massive cyber attack.
The bills did not pass because of opposition by civil society activists concerned about the impact on freedom of speech and unclear limits of the president’s authority. However, while discussing the White House Proposal in 2011, Phillip Reitinger, at the time the cybersecurity chief at the Department of Homeland Security, stated that the CI is vital as it maintains the stability and functionality of the U.S. as a nation.
Reitinger denied the U.S. government would be seeking authority to shut down the internet, but stated that if something significant occurred, it should be able to respond appropriately. One legal basis for a shutdown stems from the war powers of the president in accordance with the Communications Act of 1934, which combined and organized federal regulation of telephone, telegraph and radio communications.
Some consequences of shutting down the internet are self-evident owing to its inherent interconnectedness. Most of the world’s internet traffic circulates through U.S. territory while some nations in Eastern Europe are dependent on Runet. There will be a severe knock-on effect if the internet is down in either country.
Now, Russia is moving to allow Runet to continue working even if the country is cut off from global internet
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