Coronavirus: Russia Postpones Sovereign Internet Test

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Official government test of Internet that is cut off from rest of the world cancelled by Russia, amid the global Coronavirus pandemic

Russia has postponed a test that is supposed to improve the ability of its local infrastructure to cope with being cut off from the global Internet.

The cancellation of Russia’s so called ‘Sovereign Internet’ was confirmed by the Communications Ministry on Friday, Reuters quoted TASS as reporting.

It comes after Russia reportedly ‘successfully tested’ a country-wide alternative to the global internet in December 2019. Details of that ‘successful test’ before Christmas remain vague, but Russia’s Ministry of Communications said at the time that ordinary users did not notice any changes.

Russian internet © Pavel Ignatov Shutterstock 2012

Test cancellation

Russia had reportedly scheduled another test on Friday 20 March.

The test was aimed at developing ways to block certain types of encrypted web traffic, the TASS news agency reportedly said.

“Planned exercises were postponed due to the strengthening of measures to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus infection,” the ministry was quoted as saying.

A revised schedule for the drills would be approved soon, it said.

In 2019 it was reported that Russian telcos were considering cutting the country off from the global internet in order to test proposed national security laws.

The Russian telcos had recommended carrying out a practical exercise that would simulate Russia being disconnected from the external internet, in order to study the effects this would have on their networks.

Russian law

The law, which was proposed in the Russian Parliament in December 2018, was actually passed by the State Duma in April 2019, and is intended to ensure the ability of the internet to function within Russia even if the country were cut off from access to the global network.

The legislation wants to route all Russian web traffic and data through points controlled by the Russian government, which would monitor it for unlawful content as well as ensuring traffic remains within Russia as much as possible.

The bill also proposed building a national Domain Name System (DNS) to allow the internet to continue functioning in case of disconnection from the root servers operating elsewhere.

Essentially, Russian authorities want to route 95 percent of internet traffic within the country by 2020.

And it should be noted that Russia gained the legal authority to disconnect the country from foreign Internet servers after President Putin signed the controversial “sovereign internet” bill in May 2019.

This was despite the protests of thousands of people, concerned it would tighten government controls of the Internet in Russia.

VPNs for example will not work on Russia’s sovereign internet.

VPNs are popular in Russia, as they allow people to carry on using banned apps such as Telegram.

Russia isolation

And the testing of an isolated Internet is not the only option Russia is exploring.

Russia passed a law in November 2019 that will ban the sale of electronic devices including smartphones, smart TVs, and PCs, that are not pre-installed with Russian-made software.

The law will come into force in July 2020, and Russia is promoting the law as making it easier for ordinary Russians to use the gadgets they purchase.

But the concern is that by forcing foreign electronic manufacturers to pre-load Russian software, these makers could withdraw from the Russian market. There is also concern over the exact role of this Russian-made software.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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