Why Russia Intends to Unplug from the Internet

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While the horrors brought about by the shutdown of the Internet remain as figments of our imagination, Russia is expected to live through such horrors temporarily and probably in the next few months. The order, emanating from Kremlin seeks to satisfy a bill that requires the country and Internet Service providers to give Russia greater sovereignty over its Internet (Runet). According to RBK news agency, the shutdown is part of an information gathering process for the bill. As such, the public and private Internet providers have agreed to unplug the country from the Internet for some time. While the move may seem extreme, the service providers have agreed to the request voluntarily.

Russia long term goals are to keep all web traffic interactions between local users from traveling outside Russian borders. As of today, communication between Russia and its neighbors extends to intermediary servers located in different countries. As such, those servers operate under the laws of the state in which they are situated. However, the most immediate goal is to account for the ins and outs of its Internet infrastructure. Similar undertakings have been undertaken in the USA by the Department of Homeland Security. Project Atlas sought to map the fiber optic cable and its connective infrastructure that allows the USA Internet to run. As such, they would increase their capacity to anticipate threats and also identify elements most vulnerable to attacks.

Paul Barford, one of the Internet topology expert involved on Internet Atlas said that Russia’s Internet shutdown was part of a plan to create a cyber-wall at its borders. Developing a cyber-wall is an attempt to defend itself against “cyber cold war.” As such, developing such a wall requires a deeper understanding of how the local traffic works. As Paul suggests, one way of getting such information is by declaring a moratorium on its Internet. However, even with the clarity of goals, the Internet-dropout by Russia is still a shot in the dark. Russia may find out that it’s not able to entirely shut down its Internet or localize its traffic. According to Rebecca Slayton, a cybersecurity researcher at Cornell University, the plan of Russia unplugging itself from the Internet is merely an experiment.

Bradford also adds that unforeseen dependencies and connections could cause failures. Additionally, large and complex infrastructure might be hard to manage and track. Consequently, implementing such a project is difficult and may create uncertainties in industries such as aviation.

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