Russian Parliament Passes Bill To Isolate Internet

Russia has moved one step closer to being able to disconnect the country from foreign Internet servers.

Lawmakers in the State Duma, the Russian equivalent of the Houses of parliament, passed the bill by a large margin on its second reading.

The law has already drawn thousands onto Russian streets to protest at the law, which would tighten government controls of the Internet in Russia.

Second reading

Russian lawmakers have backed tighter internet controls as they believe it is necessary to prevent foreign meddling in Russia’s affairs.

So what is the law proposing?

Essentially, officials are seeking to increase Russian “sovereignty” over its Internet presence.

The Russian media for example has called the legislation a “sovereign internet” bill.

The legislation wants to route all Russian web traffic and data through points controlled by the Russian government. The bill also proposes building a national Domain Name System (DNS) to allow the internet to continue functioning even if the country is cut off from foreign infrastructure.

Now that the bill has passed its second reading in the State Duma, it needs to be signed off by the upper house of the parliament, before President Vladimir Putin officially rubber stamps it and the bill becomes law on 1 November.

But there is widespread concern at the move, as critics feel it will give the Russian state unlimited censorship powers.

“It’s a bill on digital slavery and the introduction of censorship for the web,” Sergei Ivanov, a member of the nationalist Liberal-Democratic party was quoted by the Guardian newspaper as saying.

Russian disconnect

At least one security expert says the Russian disconnect could already be happening.

ThousandEyes, which describes itself as the x-ray machine of the internet, said that in the past week alone it has noticed interesting packet loss events affecting Yandex.ru (the Russian equivalent of Google).

“This law creates a framework whereby ISPs will be required to funnel all Internet traffic in and out of the country through well-known choke points (Internet Exchanges),” explained Ameet Naik, technical marketing manager at ThousandEyes. “This would make it easier for the authorities to expand Internet censorship, and isolate the nation from the global Internet under times of conflict.”

“However, this would also force Internet traffic through suboptimal paths, and through performance-limiting filtering gateways,” said Naik. “This would most likely degrade the user experience for Russian users browsing sites and apps outside the country, and provide an advantage to services hosted within the country, as we’ve seen happen in China.”

Naik said that the packet loss events affecting Yandex.ru mean two things.

Either Yandex.ru is being subjected to a massive DDoS attack, or Russian authorities are already testing new filtering infrastructure designed to create well-defined choke points into Yandex’s network, in preparation for the new regulations.

Russia controls

Russia it should be remembered has already banned the use of messaging app Telegram in the country.

That decision was taken by Russian authorities after the app refused to give Russian state security services access to its users’ secret messages by handing over encryption keys used to scramble the messages.

And Russia’s regulator Roskomnadzor (RKN) has for some now been pressuring foreign social networking firms such as Facebook, to store user data on servers located within Russian jurisdiction.

It has also passed laws to require search engines to delete some search results.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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