Supposedly leaked Russian documents made the rounds on Twitter yesterday, with the official account for Nexta (a Belarusian media outlet) claiming that Russia was “[beginning] active preparations for disconnection from the global internet” to its 888k followers.
While the authenticity of the leaked documentation is still very much unconfirmed, the letter has caused widespread speculation across social media about what is in store for internet censorship in Russia.
The letter seems to be an order from Andrei Chernenko, Russia’s deputy digital minister, where he initially demands that all state-owned websites in Russia increase their security measures by Friday (March 11) this week.
Now, what seems to have raised everyone’s eyebrows and helped fuel the whole “disconnection” rumour is that the document also ordered all Russian state-owned web services to make sure they have switched their DNS hosting to servers located within Russia.
Without getting too complicated or getting lost in web jargon — DNS is essentially the “phonebook” of the internet which helps translate human-friendly web addresses like ‘DMARGE.com’ into the code that computers use to load data on web pages. So, by ordering all state-owned DNS services to make sure their servers are all geographically located within Russia, it technically means that Russia could pull itself off the global web and have an entirely self-contained internet.
It Seems Unlikely
While this remains a possibility, Andrei Chernenko’s department said that there were “no plans” to disconnect Russia from the global internet according to the Russian news agency Interfax.
Instead, Chernenko reassured readers that the letter was entirely focused on protecting Russian websites from foreign cyberattacks.
Cherneko’s orders come in the wake of massive cyberattacks being launched against Russia by Ukraine’s IT Army and hacker collective Anonymous. The orders seem to be less of a move to “disconnect” from the global internet as it does to protect Russian web resources.
This opinion is shared by Alena Epifanova, a Russian cyber policy expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations, who in a report by Fortune, said that it was quite unlikely that Russia would go ahead with a full disconnection.
“To me, it looks like a normal, reasonable document against the cyberattacks which we [have observed].”Alena Epifanova
Still, many remain sceptical about what Putin is willing to do in the face of increasing sanctions, especially after Russia’s 2019 efforts in introducing a “Sovereign Internet” that granted the government new controls over the country’s online infrastructure.
Pushing back against this, Epifanova said that the biggest threat to the Russian web is going to come from external sources, such as US-based firm Cogent cutting off its services to Russia. She adds that Russia is simply too interconnected with the world to pull the plug on itself:
“Russia is still not prepared to decouple itself [from the global Internet] completely. The whole Russian economy is based on the global internet—it’s not Iran or China. If disconnected, we could expect a major collapse in the Russian economy.”