Recently, Ukraine asked the official internet governing bodies for Russia to be booted off the net. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and related organizations rejected Ukraine's request. But, that didn't stop major internet backbone providers, Lumen and Cogent, from cutting Russia from the world internet. It now appears, however, that Russia may sever its ties from the internet all on its own.
NEXTA, a free Belarusian news service based in Warsaw, Poland, released a purported Russian internet policy document. This stated that by Friday, March 11, all Russian websites must be switched to the Russian Domain Name System (DNS) service.
DNS is the internet's master address list. It translates from human-readable internet addresses, such as zdnet.com, to an Internet Protocol (IP) address. By forcing all Russian connections to use the Russian DNS zones, people in Russia could only reach sites recognized in the Russian DNS.
This isn't new. Russia has been trying for years to gain the power to unplug from the internet. This would make it trivial to block social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, and news sites including the New York Times, the BBC, and NEXTA. This would be all in a piece with Russia shutting down effectively all independent Russian media. This would also make it easier for the Russian government to surveil its citizens.
For years, Russia's laws have required that all local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must route traffic through special servers managed by the Roskomnadzor, the country's telecoms regulator. These servers can act as kill switches and disconnect Russia from external connections while rerouting internet traffic inside Russia's own internet space. This Russian-only internet is called RuNet.
Russia claims that RuNet has been tested and works. It's not clear, however, that Russia was successful. Russian ISPs have many connections to the outside world beyond the government-controlled switches.
However, if Russia's government is successful in forcing everyone to use its DNS, it's another story.
Andrew Sullivan, CEO and President of the Internet Society, worries Russia may go even further. Sullivan believes Russia's government is "asking all sites to move to Russian-hosted servers and services." This will ensure that Russian "government websites can continue to operate should more companies decide to stop providing services."
Sullivan also notes that "Russia's government has been trying for years to disconnect from the global Internet, but they have been unsuccessful because their Internet infrastructure is actually quite robust."
If Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is successful, people in Russia will only get their information from state-sponsored propaganda. Sullivan believes "restricting Russia's Internet will have disproportionate impacts on ordinary citizens, cutting off the average person from the outside world while sparing elites … who will always find the means to remain connected."