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War censorship exposes Putin’s leaked internet control

Boston — Long before the war with Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin worked to make the Russian Internet a powerful tool for surveillance and social control, similar to China’s so-called Great Firewall.

As a result, Russian investigative journalist Andrey Soldatov was wary when Western tech companies began to cut off relations with Russia following the Russian invasion. He supports the Kremlin’s promotional war of information.

“Look, the only place Russians have to talk about Ukraine. What’s happening in Russia is Facebook,” Soldatov, who went into exile in London, wrote on Facebook in the first week of the war. Kill our access. “

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Facebook didn’t, but the Kremlin quickly got the baton, severely curbing both Facebook and Twitter, making it virtually unreachable on the Russian Internet. The law criminalizes the dissemination of information that goes against government policy. On Friday, the Kremlin also said it would limit access to Instagram.

Nonetheless, the Kremlin’s latest censorship efforts have revealed a serious flaw in the government’s larger plans to bind the Internet. Russians with a little technical wisdom can avoid the Kremlin’s efforts to starve the Russians from the facts.

President Vladimir Putin has been working long before the war with Ukraine to make the Russian Internet a powerful tool for surveillance and social control, similar to China’s so-called Great Firewall.

For example, governments have limited success in blocking the use of software called virtual private networks (VPNs), allowing users to circumvent content restrictions. The same is true for Putin’s attempts to limit the use of other censorship evasion software. ..

This puts Internet bandwidth and related service providers in a difficult situation of sympathy for the plight of Ukraine. Meanwhile, it faces public pressure to punish Russia’s national and economic reasons for limiting services when the bill may be unpaid. , They are wary of helping to curb the free flow of information that can counter the Kremlin’s leaks. For example, state claims that Russian troops are heroically “liberating” Ukraine from fascists.

Amazon Web Services, a leading provider of cloud computing services, has not acquired new customers, but continues to operate in Russia. With Cloudflare, which helps protect your website from denial of service attacks and malware, Akamai improves site performance by bringing Internet content closer to your audience, with exceptions such as blocking state-owned and sanctioned companies. , We will continue to serve our Russian customers.

In contrast, Microsoft has stopped all new sales of products and services, but hasn’t said whether it will stop cloud services in the country.

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U.S.-based Cogent, which provides the major “backbone” of Internet traffic, has disconnected its direct connections within Russia, but has physically opened a pipe through a subsidiary of a Russian network provider on foreign exchanges. I left it. Lumen, another major US backbone provider, is the same.

“We don’t intend to cut off Russian individuals and believe that the open internet is important to the world,” Cogent CEO Dave Schaeffer said in an interview. A direct connection to a server in Russia “may be used for offensive cyber,” he said. Efforts by the Russian government. “

Schaefer said the decision did not reflect “financial considerations”, but the sharp fall in the ruble could make it difficult for customers to collect payments due to higher prices for imports and services in Russia. I admitted that I had sex. Ukrainian customers in conflict offer free service.

Schaeffer said these moves could undermine Russian Internet video, but would leave enough bandwidth for smaller files.

Doug Madory, Internet Analysis Director at network management firm Kentic, said other major backbone providers in Europe and Asia continue to serve Russia, a net importer of bandwidth, from external providers. It states that there is no noticeable decline in connectivity.

Cloudflare continues to operate four data centers in Russia, even though Russian authorities have ordered the government’s website to remove foreign hosting providers as of Friday.

Under the 2019 Sovereign Internet Act, Russia should be able to operate the Internet independently of the rest of the world, and in fact Russia is as intensive as China and Iran are doing. We are approaching the monitoring and control of the Internet.

Its telecommunications monitoring agency, Rozkomnadzor, succeeded in extensive testing of the system a year ago when it restricted access to Twitter. We use hundreds of so-called middleboxes, where devices like routers run and are remotely controlled by bureaucrats who can block individual websites and services. It is legally installed by all internet providers in Russia.

This system, where the FSB security service can also spy on Russian citizens, is relatively sifted compared to China’s Great Firewall. (Getty Images)

However, the system, where the FSB security service can also spy on Russian citizens, is relatively simplistic compared to China’s Great Firewall, and Andrew Sullivan, chairman of the Nonprofit Internet Association, said Russia was successful from Russia. He said there was no evidence of the ability to separate well. Wider internet.

“Blockade of the Internet in a country is culturally, economically and technically complex, and unlike China, like Russia, where the Internet was not originally built with government control in mind. In a country, it’s much more complicated, “he said.

“When it comes to censorship, only Chinese can actually do that,” said Serge Dross, senior security engineer at Proton Technologies, Switzerland.

According to Droz, ProtonVPN, which says it is creative in finding ways to avoid blocking Russia, reports that it records 10 times more daily registrations than it did before the war. The VPN service tracked by researchers has seen eight times the average number of Facebook and Twitter downloads. The study found that the Kremlin has blocked more than 270 news and financial sites since the invasion, including BBC News and Voice of America’s Russian language service.

The Russian elite are believed to be big VPN users and no one expects them to disconnect.

Putin’s threatened response to companies abandoning Russia could cause “more financial pain,” PSAKI warns.

Researchers say that Russian authorities have also been somewhat successful in blocking privacy-protected Tor browsers that allow users to access the content of special “.onion” sites on the so-called dark web, such as VPNs. .. Twitter has just created a Tor site. It’s also in the New York Times.

However, the Kremlin does not block the popular Telegram messaging app. This is an important route for both the Ukrainian government ministries and for Meduza, an independent Russian news organization based in Latvia where the website is blocked in Russia. Meduza has 1 million followers. telegram.

In the figure in this photo, the social media applications WeChat, Twitter, MeWe, Telegram, Signal, Instagram, Facebook, Messenger and WhatsApp logos are displayed on the iPhone screen in Paris, France on October 6, 2021. ..  A former employee of Facebook social network created by Frances Haugen and Mark Zuckerberg told the US Senate on October 5 that Facebook prioritizes profits at the expense of security and the impact on young users of social networks. rice field.  About her two years of experience as a product manager on Facebook and the thousands of documents she had last spring.

In the figure in this photo, the social media applications WeChat, Twitter, MeWe, Telegram, Signal, Instagram, Facebook, Messenger and WhatsApp logos are displayed on the iPhone screen in Paris, France on October 6, 2021. .. (Chess Knot / Getty Images / Getty Images)

One reason, according to analysts, may be that Telegram is also an important conduit for Kremlin advertisers.

In addition, Telegram doesn’t have the default end-to-end encryption feature that prevents companies and outsiders from reading messages like the popular US-based messaging apps Signal and WhatsApp. WhatsApp is owned by Facebook’s parent, Meta. Telegram provides users with a fully encrypted “private chat”. However, the user must always activate them.

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After the invasion, Signal founder Moxie Marlinspike tweeted to reminders that confidential communication in insecure apps could literally be a life-threatening issue in war. Signal spokespersons do not share user numbers, but WhatsApp has an estimated 63 million users in Russia.

However, access to external websites and apps that are essential to staying informed depends on foreign-based VPN services that Russians are struggling to pay because Visa and Mastercard have closed the country. Depends on.


Ortutay reported from Oakland, California.

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