Russia to strengthen state control over the internet

News by Eugene Gerden

As Russia moves to strengthen state control over the internet in Russia, commercial concerns are anxious that any telco or ISP could be acquired.

Nikolay Nikiforov, Russia's minister of communications, has produced a plan to strengthen state control over the internet within Russia due to what he describes as the 'unstable geopolitic situation in Europe.'

One of the measures involves tightening of control over commercial companies that manage critical elements of the Russian communication infrastructure. This, according to Nikiforov, may take place by transferring the operations from the private sector to put them under direct state control.

The proposal has already been criticised by some leading Russian telecom operators and internet-providers, amid the fears that the state could potentially acquire any Russian major operator.

Other planned measures include the transfer of traffic control points to put them under state control and then introduce a traffic monitoring system, the establishment of a state body to control the Coordination Centre for TLD RU, (the administrator of Top Level National Domains .RU and .P?, which serves as the national registry and which, has until now operated as an independent company); the imposition of a ban on commercial companies from using (alternative, non-state) communication links across the state border.

This latter measure has also been subject to criticism by local operators who say that the introduction of such a ban will automatically ban the use of data centres and other infrastructure located abroad.

One of the technical measures, which the state plans intend to use to ensure ‘stable operation of the Internet in Russia', involves a backup of the L-root system and IP-addresses registry.

According to Nikiforov, there is an acute need for duplication of these systems to ensure uninterrupted operation of the internet in Russia (and especially the Russian segment of the internet), in case of any emergencies (such as war or external attacks) and should ensure IT security for national state agencies and state corporations.

Meantime most leading Russian telecom operators and internet-providers have already opposed the new state initiatives, describing them as an attempt by the state to establish strict control over the Russian internet and its providers, and having little to do with the strengthening of IT security.

According to an official spokesman at Russian Internet company Yandex, which operates the largest search engine in Russia with about 60 percent market share, at the first glance, the Minister of Communications has proposed a system which is  similar to the so-called Chinese model, however in reality this will result in nationalising the internet in Russia to make it a government run operation.

The spokesperson added that creation of an addresses' register will require the approval of ICANN, which is now in charge of the international system of IP address allocation and authorises regional centres.

Last autumn, Igor Shchegolev, the former Minister of Communications, and now presidential aide, said that the Russian government has identified the serious vulnerability of the Russian segment of the Internet to external threats. In an interview to Vedomosti, one of Russia's leading business papers, Shchegolev said that all the key elements of the internet are currently located outside Russia, which means that access to any web-site, and the internet in Russia can be blocked from the outside, which in turn represents a serious weaknesses in the level of its IT security.

Shchegolev has already suggested establishing key internet infrastructures within Russia, including national root servers, a national system of route-address information and that a start be made on monitoring and controlling the integrity of the internet.

From a strategic perspective, there are clearly genuine security concerns within Russia about the level of dependence on foreign control of the internet, nonetheless, the proposed changes signal further moves to centralising of power in the hands of the government, brushing aside privacy or competition concerns from any other group or individuals.

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