Slowly but surely, Russia has been following in the footsteps of countries that have largely made censorship a priority above information. When most countries begin to make measured steps to censor the internet for their populations, an overseeing authority was established. China has a ministry specifically for the purpose of censoring the internet. A system of balances is not at all unusual in this scenario, but Russia has decided that an unorthodox approach fits the bill perfectly for them.
Russia’s Internet Sovereignty Law and Its Implications
Russia’s Internet Sovereignty law is relatively new. It officially took effect in November of 2019 and began by requiring every telecommunications company to, in essence, give Roskomnadzor authority over everything that entered the country via the internet. Roskomnadzor is Russia’s communication censorship authority, and the devices that were installed were put in place under the guise of “withstanding foreign threats”, although they also work to actively block parts of the internet that Roskomnadzor wishes censored.
Roskomnadzor then proceeded to assemble a task force to monitor traffic and process data from every internet user in Russia. Everything every Russian does goes directly to a monitoring committee, lead by veteran and missile engineering heir Sergey Khutortsev.
What is RuNet?
RuNet takes things one step further than what Roskomnadzor has initially set out to achieve. RuNet is a completely decentralized internet, existing only for the Russian population. It’s structured similarly to China’s intranet, designed to completely isolate Russia from the global conversation.
Russia calls RuNet an internet sovereignty effort. They claim that the Western internet and the information it presents may be detrimental to the security of the Russian Federation – ultimately making the same blanket claim that other countries that isolate their populations attempt to make. The initial claim is that RuNet would only be used in the event of national emergencies, but with mandatory equipment installation and legislation to create an overreaching grasp on telecom providers ability to grant service to the population, it appears as though RuNet’s exclusive use is an inevitability.
Russia Has Been Running Tests for Years
The annexation of Crimea created a tremendous amount of political tension in the region. The Russian government used this tension as an excuse to begin running intranet test drills in 2014. Further drafts of communications bills gave RuNet a little more power with each passing year, eventually culminating in ousting or limiting the ability of foreign investors to own substantial stakes in Russian communications companies.
Every additional permission granted to the RuNet project helped it grow into a full fledged independent sovereign internet. Roskomnadzor began to express their desire to increase the country’s dependence on RuNet, overinflating the use of “fake news” as an excuse to rely more on an intranet and blaming the United States for “attempting to meddle in their elections”, merely mimicking and reversing the common narrative.
All tests and reconfigurations have culminated in RuNet’s implied permanence. Empowering themselves a little more each time, the Russian government has established an exaggerated national security need to continue to test, and eventually permanently adopt, a countrywide censored intranet.
Blocks are Starting
Russian authorities claim they were spammed with false bomb threats, posing a risk to national security and unduly tying up important resources. In response, the country has blocked secure, encrypted email providers. Both StartMail and ProtonMail are inaccessible from Russia, a block the government claims was designed to control the false threats.
The spokesperson for the decision has not voiced any negative opinion of either mail provider, claiming that the recognize these alleged actions are the sole responsibility of the individuals who have misused encrypted email.
This appears to be the beginning of Russia’s push to encourage encrypted email services to give the government the keys to unlock private conversations. The great thing about privacy based services is that they almost never comply with these requests. Both ProtonMail and StartMail have immovably strong positions, maintaining that their services will stay fully encrypted to anyone and everyone except for senders and recipients.
Who is Sergey Khutortsev?
Sergey Khutortsev, the man who ultimately became the head of the information and data centers where Russia will begin monitoring and controlling all internet activity (more so than they already do), is a veteran of the Federal Protective Service. His family are well known engineers of missiles, putting him in close proximity to the Russian military.
Khutortsev formerly worked for Rostelecom before his monumental and somewhat mysterious career switch, signing on to Roskomnadzor and promptly finding himself as the head of TsMU, the Center for Monitoring and Management of Public Communication Networks. The title leaves nothing to the imagination – it essentially outright admits that Khutortsev’s primary role is to be the manager of spying on users and controlling the internet.
Rostelecom, Khutortsev’s former employer, has been very quiet about his transition to becoming the head of TsMU. They’ve only stated that they’re continuing to work as usual. As far as what goes on inside TsMU, specifics aren’t really made public. It’s abundantly clear that they’re using government mandated deep packet inspection tools to monitor internet usage, and they’re focused on fortifying and testing RuNet.
As the head of the TsMU, Khutortsev seems to be installed in a position where he is solely responsible for overseeing the development of their systems and the management of their data. At the moment, it has been confirmed that TsMU is working on a security system to fortify RuNet. Anything that happens to the internet and its censorship must first be approved by Khutortsev, who remains shrouded in mystery.
Most people utilize stealth VPN services to bypass internet blocks and prevent service providers or nosy governments from spying on their online activities. TorGuard doesn’t have any servers in Russia – their requests for access to the information passing through our servers is against our policy designed to place the privacy of our customers as our top priority. Instead, TorGuard has thousands of other servers outside of Russia that will allow Russian internet users to spoof their location and access things that are blocked from within the country.
TorGuard’s variety of stealth connection options will allow Russian internet users to browse the internet via VPN without suggesting VPN activity to anyone who may be attempting to detect it from the outside. Normal VPNs without stealth mode are typically detectable. Stealth protocol VPNs disguise VPN traffic as normal HTTPS connection traffic to internet service providers (and communication monitoring and control agencies), preventing any red flags from being raised or undue scrutiny being placed on people who want to enjoy their freedom on the internet.