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Anes Alic

Anes Alic

Anes Alic is a veteran investigative journalist and writer whose work in everything from anti-terrorism and high-level politics, to industry, investing and IT has won…

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Russia Unplugged: Cyber Control And Censorship

Cyber Control Censorship

Russia claims to now be digitally sovereign, with a dash of censorship, Kremlin-style.  Russia is reported to have successfully implemented its so-called digital sovereignty bill, aimed at protecting the country by creating a sustainable, fenced-off national network, and successfully tested it, too.  

In February, Russian lawmakers passed the Digital Economy National Program law, which requires Russia's internet providers to ensure that they can operate in the event of foreign powers acting to isolate the country online.

The measures outlined in the law include Russia building its own version of the net's address system, known as DNS. The bill would require Internet providers to make sure they can operate if foreign countries attempt to isolate the Runet, the country's national internet infrastructure.

Currently, a dozen organizations oversee the root servers for DNS and none of them are in Russia. The government says the bill will reduce Russia's reliance on internet servers in the United States.

But what the Kremlin calls sovereignty and safety, critics call pure censorship.

Russia has introduced several internet laws in recent years. In March, its parliament passed two bills outlawing "disrespect" of authorities and the spreading of what the government deems to be "fake news".

Last year, Russia also attempted to enforce a ban against the popular messaging service Telegram, after the company refused to provide encryption keys to the Federal Security Service (FSB). However, Telegram said it could easily bypass the ban, and, indeed, the app is still widely available in Russia.

After those measures were passed, thousands of people protested in Moscow against plans to introduce tighter restrictions on the internet. 

Comparing it to some other countries, critics have warned that this could make it easier for the government to censor, reroute or block access to politically sensitive content, particularly during elections or anti-government protests.

In Iran, the National Information Network allows access to web services while policing all content on the network and limiting external information.

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The so-called Great Firewall of China blocks access to many foreign internet services.

In Russia, the authors of the ‘digital sovereignty bill’ explained that Russia will unplug itself in case of a major cyber threat. However, it was Russia that has regularly been accused of cyber-attacks on other nations and organizations.

The law itself was introduced after the U.S. administration published its 2018 National Cyber Strategy, which attributed cyberattacks on the United States to Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. 

It also comes amid media reports in June that Russia thwarted attempts by the United States to carry out cyberattacks on its power grid infrastructure.

The Kremlin can spin this any way it wants, but critics aren’t buying into the cyberwar protection angle alone. 

The internet is a beast and the last real enemy of governmental control. Social media is its biggest weapon, which also means that it’s a target globally, with the ‘Arab Spring’ the first domino, followed by the Occupy Wall Street movement. 

Social media has played a crucial role in recent mass protest movements in Iraq, Iran, India and Hong Kong.  

What Russia wants to be able to do is what Iran just did amid protests over the removal of fuel subsidies in mid-November, when the authorities shut off internet access, enabled by cooperation agreements with private networks. 

By Anes Alic for SafeHaven.com

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