Under the guise of a "cybersecurity exercise," the Kazakhstan government is forcing citizens in its capital of Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana) to install a digital certificate on their devices if they want to access foreign internet services.
Once installed, the certificate would allow the government to intercept all HTTPS traffic made from users' devices via a technique called MitM (Man-in-the-Middle).
Starting today, December 6, 2020, Kazakh internet service providers (ISPs) such as Beeline, Tele2, and Kcell are redirecting Nur-Sultan-based users to web pages showing instructions on how to install the government's certificate. Earlier this morning, Nur-Sultan residents also received SMS messages informing them of the new rules.
Kazakhstan users have told ZDNet today that they are not able to access sites like Google, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Netflix without installing the government's root certificate.
Both previous attempts failed after browser makers blacklisted the government's certificates.
Government calls it a cybersecurity training exercise
In a statement published on Friday, Kazakh officials described their efforts to intercept HTTPS traffic as a cybersecurity training exercise for government agencies, telecoms, and private companies.
They cited the fact that cyberattacks targeting "Kazakhstan's segment of the internet" grew 2.7 times during the current COVID-19 pandemic as the primary reason for launching the exercise.
Officials did not say how long the training exercise will last.
The Kazakh government used a similarly vague statement last year, in 2019, describing its actions as a "security measure to protect citizens."
Representatives for major browser makers, pivotal in blocking the Kazakh government's first two attempts to backdoor HTTPS traffic, told ZDNet they will investigate the recent incident and take appropriate measures.
Article updated at 18:55 ET, December 6 with the list of domains blocked in Kazakhstan. Article updated again at 06:00 ET, December 7 with response from major browser vendors.