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Ukraine asks for Russia to be kicked off the internet

UPDATE: Russian sites and services would remain on the internet, but they'd be badly compromised. However, the internet's governing organizations seem unlikely to act.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The internet is more than just hardware. It's also a global network of shared standards and protocols. Some, such as Domain Name Server (DNS), provide the master address list for all internet resources. 

Now, because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Andrii Nabok, Ukrainian representative on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov, have asked that Russia's top-level domains (TLD), such as .ru, .рф, and .su be revoked along with their associated Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates.  

Why? To stop the Russian propaganda machine, and prevent further propaganda and disinformation.

"These atrocious crimes have been made possible mainly due to the Russian propaganda machinery using websites continuously spreading disinformation, hate speech, promoting violence and hiding the truth regarding the war in Ukraine," Nabok said.

Fedorov has also asked that RIPE NCC, the regional Internet registry for Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Central Asia, withdraw Russia and its Local Internet Registries (LIR) rights to use their assigned IPv4 and IPv6 addresses and to block their DNS root servers.  

If it were to happen, the move would be unprecedented. While Russia has deliberately disconnected itself from the internet in the past as a security test, this is an entirely different proposition.  

If ICANN and RIPE NCC were to do this and grant Ukraine's request to "shut down Russia's DNS root servers," it would be extremely disruptive.  

While we think of DNS as being primarily for browsers, it's far more than that. Everything that runs on the internet -- Slack, email, you name it -- DNS works behind the scenes to make sure all the application requests hook up with the appropriate internet resources. Whether a website, email link, or FTP site, it has an IPv4 address or its IPv6 address equivalent, and the 13 DNS master root servers track them all. These authoritative DNS servers hold the addresses for every internet-connected device in the world. DNS is essential and without it, there is no practical internet. Period. 

Bill Woodcock, executive director of the Packet Clearing House, the international organization responsible for providing operational support and security to critical internet infrastructure, sums up what he believes would happen to Russia's internet in a series of tweets. First, it would make Russian websites and email unreachable from outside Russia. Next, it "would make connectivity spotty for many users inside Russia, but mostly regular folks, not government or military users." Finally, it would break the Routing Policy Specification Language (RPSL) and Resource Public Key Infrastructure (RPKI) security that protects Russia's internet routing.

The result? Woodcock believes it would make "Russian civilian Internet users much more vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks, such as are used to compromise banking credentials and website passwords," while having "little to no effect on the Russian government or military."

"Russia is doing many bad things at the moment, and retribution is part of what happens to people who pick fights," Woodcock acknowledged. "But this is not the thing to do." 

Paul Twomey, former ICANN President and CEO, agrees. Twomey wrote in a tweet: "Keeping the protocol layer operating in Russia is the best way to ensure that sites carrying diverse views to Russian audiences are effective."

So far there's no groundswell of support for pushing Russia out of the internet. The RIPE NCC Executive Board has already stated "that the means to communicate should not be affected by domestic political disputes, international conflicts or war. This includes the provision of correctly registered Internet numbering resources."

On the ICANN AtLarge Mailing List, Dr. Erich Schweighofer, a European Commission Principal Administrator,  wrote: "Removing Russia from the Internet does not help supporting the civil society in this country for a democratic change. ICANN is a neutral platform, not taking a position in this conflict but allowing States to act accordingly, e.g. blocking all traffic from a particular state."

Andrew Sullivan, President and CEO of the Internet Society, added, such calls "raise the specter of the 'Splinternet' – the splintering of the Internet along geographical, political, commercial, and/or technological boundaries." This fragmenting would have massive negative effects, while also setting dangerous precedents. So, "The calls to cut Russia off from the Internet are a slippery slope, as the "Splinternet" is the antithesis of how the Internet was designed and meant to function. We must resist these calls, no matter how tempting they may be."

Thus, while attacks are being made on Russia's internet by Anonymous and other hacker groups, it seems unlikely that RIPE NCC or ICANN will be taking any action against Russia.

UPDATE: Quotes from the Internet Soceity.

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