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Russia shutting off internet country-wide next week to test its own censored version

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Kremlin/Released)
October 25, 2019

Russia is preparing a test run of its “RuNet” internal network, an alternative to the global internet that could eventually enable the government to cut information ties from the outside world.

The “RuNet” tests will begin on Nov. 1 and will see tests at least annually if not more frequently, according to a translated Russian report obtained by Defense One. The Russian moves to exercise greater internet controls follows a Russian law signed in May to authorize the Russian internet alternative.

A CNN report of the law’s passage indicated its stated intent was to ensure against foreign online restrictions through a “sustainable, secure and fully functioning” local internet, but noted the law calls for Roskomnadzor – Russia’s federal communications oversight agency – to establish an internet management and monitoring center and would be empowered to suspend outside internet traffic.

The latest development on the internal “RuNet” aims to see if it can take over for the function of the global internet.

“On Monday, the government approved the provision on conducting exercises to ensure the stable, safe and holistic functioning of the Internet and public communications networks in the Russian Federation,” the translated Russian report reads. “The exercises are held at the federal (in the territory of the Russian Federation) and regional (in the territory of one or more constituent entities of the Russian Federation) levels.”

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In its reporting, Defense One noted “holistic” is a term that implies all internet traffic would fall under the scrutiny of the Roskomnadzor’s oversight methods. The Russian government could, with the substitute of its internal network, censor critical outside information, block websites it does not approve of and monitor internet activity.

The Russian military launched its own model for a secure internal network for classified information in 2016, mirroring the U.S. Defense Department’s classified internal network, the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System.

Herman Klimenko, the top information technology advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin, suggested the Russian military network could be scaled up to handle the whole country’s traffic but warned that it would be difficult to sustain the bandwidth for that burden.

“With so many government, public, and private-sector nodes using such foreign tech, the Russian government is seeking to impose a measure of control over how Internet communication over this technology is conducted,” said  Samuel Bendett, an adviser at the CNA Corporation and a fellow in Russia studies at the American Foreign Policy Council.

Bendett told Defense One Russia’s efforts to secure a domestic internet option indicates it sees reliance on Western information systems as a key strategic vulnerability.

The developments also suggest a trend towards greater Russian censorship over the internet activity of its citizens. In recent months, Russia has shown a closeness with the communist Chinese government and the two countries have established an agreement for joint internet censorship efforts.