It’s been in the news recently that Russia is going to disconnect itself from the Internet and create its own. You may find this humorous, you may find this downright Orwellian. Is something like this really feasible? And how will it affect you?

The Law

On November 1 a law went into effect in Russia that puts all Internet Service Providers under the control of Russia’s telecom agency Raskomnadzor. For all intents and purposes it puts up a wall that creates a Russian-sanctioned Internet where only sites approved by the government can be seen by users thus giving President Vladimir Putin greater control over the content seen by its citizens. It also provides the government with a so-called kill switch in the event of a cyberwar.

To provide what is described as a “sustainable, secure and fully functioning” Internet Russia will create its own addressing system as well. That means that Russian users attempting to reach an international site like the BBC will be instead directed to a Russian version of that site or to the Russian equivalent of that site. 

This is done by creating a proxy to determine the traffic’s origin and steer packets of information away from the normal DNS resolver and send it to their own. This allows them to send normal Internet traffic to where the government wants it to go. The proxy will send traffic on or it will block it. 

That means if a Russian wants to visit the proxy would recognize Nicely Done Sites as a web developer in the United States and send that user to a Russian developer instead. We do not have many clients in Russia so this will not affect our bottom line in any way. Is there a Krasive Oformlennyye Sayty in Russia? It would really be eerie if it were led by someone named Devid Bruks.

Is This A Good Idea?

The first thing that many people think of when they see this is the Great Firewall of China. China had a greater head start, implementing their plan in 1996 and even today it is possible to circumvent it with a VPN so it is hardly 100% effective, though VPNs are illegal and the user faces harsh penalties if they are caught using one. The Chinese Communist Party has spent huge sums of money to keep their controls modernized as the Internet evolves. Russia is late to the game in that regards and they will be playing catch up.

The country has a population of about 146 million people with an estimated 71% of them online. That is a lot of people who knew the Internet before this happened and will be able to tell others what it was like, kind of like in the early days of the Soviet Union. Many of those people were purged or sent to gulags, so hopefully the same fate does not await the modern Internet user. There are also a large number of foreign companies that operate in Russia, from tech companies like Cisco and Apple to Pepsi, McDonald’s, Phillip Morris, Johnson & Johnson and Ford. Cutting these off is not a good idea and may be harder to do than the government believes. 

For many people the first thought of this is the Orwellian control that this gives the Russian government, which is not famous for its transparency, freedom and openness. Yet Russian citizens have been dealing with this for several years already since VPNs and encryption services are banned in the country. While there is nothing wrong with pushing for domestically developed services over international ones simply cutting them off is not a good idea.

The final power that it gives the government, the kill switch is not necessarily a bad idea. In many ways the days of conventional warfare is over as the Internet becomes the new battleground. Any attack in the real world will be preceded by an attack in the virtual world and the ability to stop that is something that every world power wants. The question many have is will this be used only in this regard or will the government be overzealous with its use. Russia is of course not the only country in this world that has a kill switch for its Internet but none of those countries known to have one are famous for their freedoms.

Can Russia Truly Disconnect?

If Russia is truly looking to disconnect from the Internet they may be facing an impossible task. Russia will not be able to duplicate every single entity that is used around the world. Yes, they may have their own version of Facebook in VK but do they have an equivalent for every service offered by Amazon or Google? Probably not and creating their equivalent will be prohibitively expensive.

Russia will still have to be connected to the Internet that we all know and love in order to allow for access to those services and to facilitate trade with other nations. Companies and other nations do not want to have to use a whole different software suite just to trade with Russia. Even China is not able to overcome this challenge and allows for those services to be used. Russia cannot truly disconnect itself from the World Wide Web.

We Have It Good In The US

Of course Russian citizens were not happy about this and they were not afraid to let the government know with massive protests back in March when the law was passed. They are afraid that the Putin Net as some have called it will only be for censorship and will prevent citizens from complaining about government officials. Other laws passed outlawed “abuse” of officials and creating and spreading fake news.

It almost hearkens back to what regular people think of when they think of Soviet Union controls. Of course Russian officials say that they have no plan on cutting off the Internet or to isolate users but they may not have a reason to do it just yet. 

Now chances are your business does not do business with any Russian entities and you may not care one way or another. What Russia wants to do is their business after all but what this does is give the government full control of the Internet. Be thankful that something like this is not being implemented in the US or is even being considered. It is great that we have the ability to interact directly with the President and we can tell him or one day her where to stick their head with no repercussions. We can do that with other government officials too. We can also spread all of the fake news that we want and only the truth can put a stop to that, not the government. No matter what your political ideology is, be thankful that we live here in the US and not in Russia.

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