Russian authorities are planning to disconnect the entire country from the global internet temporarily, according to reports.
The experiment aims to test Russia’s cyber defenses and ensure the nation’s internet service, known as Runet, can continue to function in the event of a foreign attack. Officials will verify whether Russia can continue to operate its web service without passing data to and from the outside world. Russian telecom companies will have to re-route all internet traffic to exchange points managed or approved by the Russian telecom supervisor Roskomndazor.
It is unclear exactly when the test will be launched, but officials said it is expected to take place over the next several months.
The experiment is part of a new draft law known as the Digital Economy National Program. The law will also obligate Russia to create its own Domain Name System (DNS) so it can continue to operate if it loses connection to international servers. The DNS is what translates domain names into Internet Protocol (IP) addresses so that people surfing the web can access them.
Some commentators have raised alarm bells about the experiment, suggesting that it is the first step toward nationalizing Russia’s internet to crack down on freedom of information. But some analysts point out that the project is still in an experimental phase.
“I think the experiment itself, the Russians are calling it a ‘training exercise,’ is really just that, to test for how various systems would react to disconnection and where the weak spots or issues would be. But I also think it’s simultaneously a litmus test of public opinion, to see how the public will react to something like this or if there will be little uproar,” Tanya Lokot, an assistant professor at Dublin City University focusing on Internet freedom in Russia and Ukraine, told Newsweek.
“Despite how threatening the “experiment” may look, it’s also not a simulation in the true sense—while many industry voices and government officials have supported the new “autonomous internet” law in principle, the biggest issue still remains: how would such a massive undertaking be funded?” Lokot added. “There is as yet no clarity on how much ‘disconnecting’ the Russian internet would cost and who would foot the bill … There is no detailed budget or breakdown of the various costs as yet. And many state and industry voices are cautioning that such a costly undertaking will definitely lead to rising consumer tariffs for Internet and related services.”
On Monday, Russia also announced that it would introduce digital identification cards by 2024 and will begin digitalizing some key government services.
The U.S. and other Western nations have criticized Russia for launching influence campaigns and cyber attacks on foreign nations, and analysts say that Russia is preparing for a scenario in which the international community decides to cut Russia off from the world wide web.
This year’s World Wide Threat Assessment from the U.S. intelligence community determined that “China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea increasingly use cyber operations to threaten both minds and machines in an expanding number of ways—to steal information, to influence our citizens, or to disrupt critical infrastructure.”
“We assess that Russia poses a cyber espionage, influence, and attack threat to the United States and our allies. Moscow continues to be a highly capable and effective adversary, integrating cyber espionage, attack, and influence operations to achieve its political and military objectives. Moscow is now staging cyber attack assets to allow it to disrupt or damage U.S. civilian and military infrastructure during a crisis and poses a significant cyber influence threat,” the intelligence community report continued.
Researchers determined that Russia has used every social media platform possible to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election and sow discord in the U.S.
Still, there have been no indications from the international community suggesting that a plan exists to cut off Russia’s Internet access.