UPDATE: 28. December 2019: UN Moves Towards Handing Dictatorships Power to Control the Internet - The United Nations wants to hand power to dictatorial regimes like China to control the Internet, prompting fears of a massive new free speech purge.

Russia 'successfully tests' its unplugged internet

The net independence plan is seen as a way for Russia's government to get more control over online life - Image copyright REUTERS

By Jane Wakefield  - 24. December 2019

Russia has successfully tested a country-wide alternative to the global internet, its government has announced.

Details of what the test involved were vague but, according to the Ministry of Communications, ordinary users did not notice any changes.

The results will now be presented to President Putin.

Experts remain concerned about the trend for some countries to dismantle the internet.

"Sadly, the Russian direction of travel is just another step in the increasing breaking-up of the internet," said Prof Alan Woodward, a computer scientist at the University of Surrey.

"Increasingly, authoritarian countries which want to control what citizens see are looking at what Iran and China have already done.

"It means people will not have access to dialogue about what is going on in their own country, they will be kept within their own bubble."

How would a domestic internet work?

The initiative involves restricting the points at which Russia's version of the net connects to its global counterpart, giving the government more control over what its citizens can access.

"That would effectively get ISPs [internet service providers] and telcos to configure the internet within their borders as a gigantic intranet, just like a large corporation does," explained Prof Woodward.

So how would the government establish what some have dubbed a "sovereign Runet"?

Countries receive foreign web services via undersea cables or "nodes" - connection points at which data is transmitted to and from other countries' communication networks. These would need to be blocked or at least regulated.

This would require the co-operation of domestic ISPs and would be much easier to achieve if there were just a handful of state-owned firms involved. The more networks and connections a country has, the more difficult it is to control access.

Then Russia would need to create an alternative system.

In Iran, the National Information Network allows access to web services while policing all content on the network and limiting external information. It is run by the state-owned Telecommunication Company of Iran.

One of the benefits of effectively turning all internet access into a government-controlled walled garden, is that virtual private networks (VPNs), often used to circumvent blocks, would not work.

Another example of this is the so-called Great Firewall of China. It blocks access to many foreign internet services, which in turn has helped several domestic tech giants establish themselves.

Russia already tech champions of its own, such as Yandex and Mail.Ru, but other local firms might also benefit.

The country plans to create its own Wikipedia and politicians have passed a bill that bans the sale of smartphones that do not have Russian software pre-installed.

Technical challenges

One expert warned that the policy could help the state repress free speech, but added that it was not a foregone conclusion that it would succeed.

"The Russian government has run into technical challenges in the past when trying to increase online control, such as its largely unsuccessful efforts to block Russians from accessing encrypted messaging app Telegram," Justin Sherman, a cyber-security policy fellow at the New America think tank, told the BBC.

"Without more information about this test though, it's hard to assess exactly how far Russia has progressed in the path towards an isolatable domestic internet.

"And on the business front, it remains to be seen just how much domestic and foreign pushback Russia will get."

Local news agencies, including Pravda, reported the deputy head of the Ministry of Communications had said that the tests of the scheme had gone as planned.

"The results of the exercises showed that, in general, both the authorities and telecoms operators are ready to effectively respond to emerging risks and threats, to ensure the stable functioning of both the internet and unified telecommunication network in the Russian Federation," said Alexey Sokolov.

The state-owned Tass news agency reported the tests had assessed the vulnerability of internet-of-things devices, and also involved an exercise to test Runet's ability to stand up to "external negative influences".

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U.N. Approves China-Backed Internet Convention, Alarming Rights Advocates

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before their bilateral meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool

(AFP) — The United Nations on Friday approved a Russian-led bid that aims to create a new convention on cybercrime, alarming rights groups and Western powers that fear a bid to restrict online freedom.

The General Assembly approved the resolution sponsored by Russia and backed by China, which would set up a committee of international experts in 2020.

The panel will work to set up “a comprehensive international convention on countering the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes,” the resolution said.

The United States, European powers and rights groups fear that the language is code for legitimizing crackdowns on expression, with numerous countries defining criticism of the government as “criminal.”

China heavily restricts internet searches to avoid topics sensitive to its communist leadership, as well as news sites with critical coverage.

A number of countries have increasingly tried to turn off the internet, with India cutting off access in Kashmir in August after it stripped autonomy to the Muslim-majority region and Iran taking much of the country offline as it cracked down on protests in November.

“It is precisely our fear that (a new convention) would allow the codification at an international and global level of these types of controls that’s driving our opposition and our concerns about this resolution,” a US official said.

Any new UN treaty that spells out internet controls would be “inimical to the United States’ interests because that doesn’t tally with the fundamental freedoms we see as necessary across the globe,” he said.

Human Rights Watch called the UN resolution’s list of sponsors “a rogue’s gallery of some of the earth’s most repressive governments.”

“If the plan is to develop a convention that gives countries legal cover for internet blackouts and censorship, while creating the potential for criminalizing free speech, then it’s a bad idea,” said Human Rights Watch’s Louis Charbonneau.

The United States argues that the world should instead expand its sole existing accord on cybercrime, the 2001 Budapest Convention, which spells out international cooperation to curb copyright violations, fraud and child pornography.

Russia has opposed the Budapest Convention, arguing that giving investigators access to computer data across borders violates national sovereignty.

The Budapest Convention was drafted by the Council of Europe, but other countries have joined, including the United States and Japan.

A new UN treaty on cybercrime could render the Budapest Convention obsolete, further alarming rights groups.

 

UN Moves Towards Handing Dictatorships Power to Control the Internet

Legitimizing web blackouts and free speech censorship.

By  - 

The United Nations wants to hand power to dictatorial regimes like China to control the Internet, prompting fears of a massive new free speech purge.

The General Assembly has approved a resolution sponsored by China and Russia to set up a committee of “international experts” whose role would be to stop “the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes.”

However, many caution that the move is merely a back door for authoritarian regimes to further censor dissent.

“The United States, European powers and rights groups fear that the language is code for legitimizing crackdowns on expression, with numerous countries defining criticism of the government as “criminal,” reports AFP.

Human Rights Watch said the list of sponsors for the resolution is “a rogue’s gallery of some of the earth’s most repressive governments” and “gives countries legal cover for internet blackouts and censorship, while creating the potential for criminalizing free speech.”

Governments like China already censor and turn off the Internet during times of civil unrest while doling out ‘social credit score’ punishments for those who criticize the state.

The Communist country is also rolling out a plan to force its citizens to pass a facial recognition test to use the Internet. Criticized the authorities? No Internet for you.

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We predicted that all this would come to fruition nearly 10 years ago in an article entitled ‘Cybersecurity Measures Will Mandate Government “ID Tokens” To Use The Internet’.

“Under the guise of “cybersecurity,” the government is moving to discredit and shut down the existing Internet infrastructure in the pursuit of a new, centralized, regulated world wide web,” I wrote in June 2010.

The fact that the United Nations is attempting to legitimize this framework by handing oppressive regimes more power to define certain types of speech as criminal is part of a long term agenda.

As we previously highlighted, the United Nations global compact on migration expanded the definition of ‘hate speech’ to make it a crime to criticize mass immigration.

Under a second Trump administration the U.S. is almost certain to ignore any UN attempt to impose its hegemony over the Internet, but if the Democrats win in 2020 it could be a very different story.