According to an internal document circulating on social media and comments from Russian officials, Russia is preparing measures to strengthen its control over the Internet in the name of being more resilient to cyberattacks.
The document lays the groundwork for state management of the internet infrastructure. This requires switching to Domain Name Systems (DNS) located on the territory of the Russian Federation by March 11, moving public resources hosted abroad to Russia, and moving public resources under the Russian .ru domain zone.
The government telegram was signed by Andrei Chernenko, the deputy minister of digital development, and a number of mass media reported on it. The initiative follows attempts to nationalize control of the internet.
“For government agencies, the telegram contains simple cyber hygiene recommendations that will help protect our resources from malicious traffic, maintain services and monitor domain names more effectively,” a Russian ministry spokesman told the Russian publication Kommersant.
In other words, Moscow is presenting the measures as a means of better defending itself against cyberattacks that have intensified during the Ukraine conflict.
Internet policy expert Konstantinos Komaitis said, “The cause of cyber security is always used as an excuse to take more control.”
Shortly after Russia’s invasion began on February 24, the Ukrainian government announced the creation of an IT army to “continue the fight on the cyber front,” Ukraine’s digital transformation minister Mykhailo Fedorov announced on February 26.
Several hacker collectives have also sided with Russia in the conflict and attacked Russian infrastructure, including official government websites. For example, “Anonymous” took down the website of the Ministry of Defense.
Paradoxically, creating a single point of control would create a vulnerability in the decentralized internet architecture, as it would become a prime target for cyberattacks.
However, Russian DNS can solve this vulnerability, but this solution requires identifying and reconfiguring tens of thousands of different access points to the global Internet.
Russia is no stranger to such attempts. In 2019, Moscow experimented with disconnecting the global internet and introduced a new sovereign internet law to tighten control over Russia’s internet infrastructure.
Therefore, some observers interpreted this move as a last-ditch attempt to isolate itself from the world network. However, it remains unclear whether Russia will have the ability to actually disable it.
“It’s really not an easy thing to disconnect yourself from the Internet,” Komaitis added. “Russia’s Internet is more interdependent than what we see in China and Iran.”
While this is particularly opportune as most Western tech companies have ceased operations in Russia due to the occupation, the development of such capacity does not happen overnight. For example, China has devoted thousands of IT professionals to building the Great Firewall over the years.
Russia’s goal may be to protect itself from outside influence by allowing Russian regulator Roskomnadzor to control which websites are accessed and ensure that no one else can disrupt the Internet in Russia.
Last week, the Ukrainian government asked the US-based Internet Corporation for Business (ICANN), which is responsible for managing the Internet’s domain name system, to block Russian domain names and DNS root servers.
In past years, Russia has accused ICANN of being a US-dominated organization, as it was under the direct control of the US commerce department until 2017. However, the technical body refused to take a political stance and did not act according to Ukraine’s demands. request.
“The question is who is in control,” Komaitis said. “They send a message: we do not depend on anyone, we are self-sufficient. “Whether that’s the case or not, I don’t think anyone can say for sure right now.”
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]