In an experiment designed to test its cyber defenses, Russia is planning to temporarily disconnect itself from the global Internet.
The shutdown, which will occur sometime before April, will test the ability of local networks to direct information to state-controlled routing points. Ideally, data sent between Russian citizens will reach its destination, but information sent to foreign computers will not.
The test is expected to cause major disruptions to Internet traffic.
In 2017, Moscow announced plans to handle most of its Internet traffic locally by 2020 – meaning all domestic traffic would pass through state-run routing points. Last December, Russian lawmakers introduced a draft law which forces ISPs to make sure they can operate if Russia were to be isolated from the global Internet.
An update to the draft was introduced this week.
The ultimate goal is for Moscow to implement a system similar to China’s “Great Firewall” – a combination of laws and tech which enables Beijing to regulate its Internet and censor forbidden topics.
But Russia also wants a dependable domestic intranet in case of foreign aggression or in case it needs to disconnect.
Supporters (including President Vladimir Putin) insist the system is a necessary contingency plan, while critics worry it will enhance the censorship capabilities of communications watchdog Roskomnadzor.
Russia’s online censorship laws already require all ISPs to direct traffic through government-approved servers. And as reported earlier this month, Google has agreed to censor its search results in Russia to filter controversial topics including pornography, drugs, political extremism, pirated media, and unlicensed gambling.
“The news of online censorship anywhere in the world is troubling,” notes Futurism journalist Dan Robitzski. “Unfortunately for tech giants like Google that want to expand into new markets, complying with censorship laws might just be the price of admission.”
From my point of view, Russia’s test is a sobering reminder that our right to information is not the same in other countries. But it’s also proof that Russia is serious about the need for its own functioning Internet should it be forced to (or choose to) disconnect from the rest of the world.