Russia has tested a controlled, domestic alternative to the global internet

Russia has tested a controlled, domestic alternative to the global internet
Digital sovereignty

Russia’s Ministry of Communications says it has successfully tested a domestic alternative to the global internet, according to BBC News

While providing few details, the ministry said that Russian internet users did not notice any changes during a test run in which the domestic internet replaced global access. 

President Vladimir Putin framed the move as a defensive effort to secure access for Russians in the face of heightened risks from global cyberwarfare.  

The move, he says, “is aimed only at preventing adverse consequences of global disconnection from the global network, which is largely controlled from abroad. This is the point, this is what sovereignty is — to have our resources that can be turned on so that we would not be cut from the Internet.”

However, other nations such as China have recently taken steps to control and regulate internet access, and experts warn that the world could be moving toward an increasingly fragmented global internet. 

“Sadly, the Russian direction of travel is just another step in the increasing breaking-up of the internet,” University of Surrey computer science professor Alan Woodward told BBC News. 

“Increasingly, authoritarian countries which want to control what citizens see are looking at what Iran and China have already done. It means people will not have access to dialogue about what is going on in their own country, they will be kept within their own bubble.”

In Iran, the National Information Network polices web activity and controls external access. In China, the Great Firewall limits access to foreign online services, and has allowed domestic tech companies to step in to offer substitutes—a similar move in Russia could benefit local firms there. Saudi Arabia has also placed limits on internet access and communication for its citizens. 

In Russia, the government’s “sovereign internet” law took effect in November, allowing content to be blocked in an “emergency situation.” Putin recently signed another law banning the sale of devices without certain pre-installed Russian apps. 

For Russia to establish a viable alternative to the internet, it would need a separate DNS system, as well as physical infrastructure connecting various parts of the country, according to TechCrunch. The undersea cables that connect Russia and other nations to the global internet would need to be regulated or blocked.

According to Woodward:

“That would effectively get ISPs and telcos to configure the internet within their borders as a gigantic intranet, just like a large corporation does.”

Photo by Deensel [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

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