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Saturday, 4 May 2019

Internet "Sovereign": Putin Wants To Isolate To Better Control

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed Wednesday the law to create a "sovereign" Internet. A project supposed to better protect the country against cyber attacks, but which allows especially to monitor the Internet users more effectively.

Russia will build its "sovereign" Internet, also called "RuNet". Russian President Vladimir Putin promulgated on Wednesday, May 1, the law for a "safe and sustainable" Internet that will isolate the Russian network from the rest of the world to officially protect it from computer attacks by foreign powers. But defenders of freedom of expression denounce a liberticidal text offering the Kremlin new tools to muzzle any opposition to the ruling power.

The Law No. 608767-7 plans to nationalize gradually Internet in the country. Moscow wants, on the one hand, to establish its own register of domain names [DNS] that Internet operators will be obliged to use from 2021. Today, this kind of large directory of Internet addresses, managed by the Icann, the organization that serves as the global government of the Internet, is the same for everyone around the world. But Moscow denounces this system in place, which he accuses of being under the influence of Washington. From 2021, the Russians will have their own address book for all websites.

To protect Moscow against Trump?

The Russian authorities also want to control the routing of internet data in the country. The law thus instructs Roskomnadzor, the Russian telecommunications policeman, to indicate to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) through which nodes they are allowed to pass their traffic. These nodes are physical infrastructures - often buildings - that act as hubs for the flow of data. And this Human Rights Watch, contacted by France 24. The organization will also install spy devices in each of these nodes that "allow it to monitor all traffic, and shut down these facilities remotely, which will give it a de facto control panel to cut regions or even the country internet, "says Damelya Aitkhozhina, Russia's NGO specialist

Officially, this new "sovereign" Internet has been developed to protect Russia against the new US ambitions in the cyberspace, says the Moscow Times. In 2018, Donald Trump said that the United States would use its arsenal of computer weapons (viruses, spyware) more aggressively. Thanks to this new law, Moscow could quickly close the network in Russia to prevent a cyber attack from reaching its critical infrastructure.

But for most experts, this is just a pretext. Vladimir Putin has flirted with the idea of ​​a "sovereign Internet" since at least 2015, recalls a report by the Defense Intelligence Agency, the US military intelligence agency. In addition, "cutting oneself off the world has never stopped being attacked. The Stuxnet virus, which paralyzed the Iranian nuclear program in 2010, was introduced in the computer system of nuclear power plant cut off from the Internet ", recalls Georg Carl, specialist computer networks at the University of Munich, interviewed by the daily German Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Censorship with Chinese sauce?

Law no. 608767-7 marks "above all the transition from a logic of control of contents to a logic of control of the infrastructure", explains Julien Nocetti, expert of the internet in Russia at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI). This specialist recalls that until recently, Moscow had multiplied the texts - against piracy, content "pornographic" - to try to censor the web and monitor what was said online. Without much success: services such as Telegram's highly secure messaging made this surveillance attempts inefficient. The new law will at least allow the authorities to control who can access services like Telegram.

Some media have compared the new Russian "internet sovereign" to the very sophisticated censorship of the Chinese authorities who control at the comma by what Internet users can write and read online. The law thus allows Roskomnadzor to take "all necessary measures" to deal with any "imminent threat" on the Internet, without "defining what is an imminent threat, which means that the authorities will probably be able to act with great latitude to censor the network", fears Damelya Aitkhozhina.

But this parallel with China is partly misleading, according to Andrei Soldatov, author of "The Red Web: The Kremlin War Against the Internet". "This law is not there to block access to Facebook or Google, the Kremlin can already do it. It will mainly serve to cut off from the network some areas affected by social movements, "he told the Moscow Times.

The question of financing

Aware of the risk of murder, thousands of Russians protested against the law in Moscow in March 2019. A few weeks later, a dozen NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, published an open letter calling on the Russian government to abandon its plan. Vladimir Putin has ignored this challenge.

But all hope is not lost for the opponents of this law. Nobody knows, in fact, how Moscow intends to realize its "sovereign internet". Especially in the deadlines set by Vladimir Putin, who wants the infrastructure to be ready on 1 November 2019. "For a territory as large as Russia, it is a logistical challenge that seems difficult to achieve," says Julien Nocetti.

It's also a question of funding. And not only to build infrastructure. Roskomnadzor will need substantial resources to manage his new prerogatives as the chief censor capable of completely isolating the country from the "World Wide Web". It will be necessary to spend 20  billion rubles (273  million euros) to face the immediate expenses of hiring, construction, and renovations of infrastructures, according to a note of the Council of economic experts of Russia, cited by the Russian economic daily Kommersant. An addition that could quickly fly away, because of research and development expenditure, maintenance, says the Russian Council of Experts that estimates that a bill of 1.7 billion euros is all over. is conceivable. "It must also be taken into account that this kind of big building site, in Russia, generates corruption and should involve additional costs for the operators who will, probably, pass them on to the consumer," says Julien Nocetti.

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