Belarus is on the verge of something big. Exactly what that is remains to be seen. A wave of unrest came, following the election that neither the people of Belarus nor the leaders of most major governments are willing to recognize as fair or accurate. The government of Belarus did what most autocratic governments do when the people have finally had enough: they shut down the internet to limit communication. And they wouldn’t have been able to do it if a US based firm hasn’t supplied their network company with the tools to make it all possible.
Lukashenko: Disgraced (Former) Authoritarian Leader
Alexander Lukashenko has always been the president of Belarus. There has never been another. The position of the presidency in Belarus was created without term limits, and because of that, Lukashenko has enjoyed being installed as president for the entire duration of the office’s existence. Members of the opposition are sometimes kidnapped or murdered. Russia is always standing behind Lukashenko to assure that he remains exactly where they prefer him.
Belarus’s 2020 election finally became something more than symbolic. The state media made a huge mistake, claiming that Lukashenko crushed opponent Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in a staggering 80% to 20% victory. These inflated numbers read as clearly and apparently false to the population of Belarus, who simply thought to ask each other who they voted for. When everyone realized that the election results were an impossible exaggeration and it seemed as though the clear majority backed Lukashenko, all hell broke loose.
The Opposition Becomes the Majority
People began to communicate more about the rigged election, organizing massive protests with hundreds of thousands of attendees in and around Minsk. Given the country’s shady history of making Lukashenko’s political opponents disappear, Tikhanovskaya was taken to Lithuania for safekeeping while the country figures out how to rebound from the election and correct the false results.
A massive paradigm shift made the opposition the majority, and Lukashenko was never equipped to handle the day when the population realized that they could revolt against their autocratic rule. Belarusians are quick to discuss their plans of action to remedy the situation – perhaps even quicker to act after Lukashenko arrogantly asserted that the only way to be granted a new election would be to kill him.
As the unruly population began to further spiral out of control, Lukashenko found ways to suppress communications and make an organized revolt difficult. One of those methods was a total internet block.
Internet Blocks for Damage Control
Following the election, popular social networking sites and most credible news organizations were down for all users in Belarus. Most text and communication apps went down, as did Google’s entire search engine. Lukashenko’s government called this a cyber-attack. Security analysts immediately recognized that the outages were, beyond the shadow of a doubt, an inside job implemented by the government. Lukashenko’s autocratic regime denies any and all responsibility, even though the evidence trail proves that the outages were deliberately implemented.
The infrastructure to create the blocks was provided to Lukashenko’s government in 2018 via Russian technology company Jet Infosystems. The deep packet inspection equipment used to detect and block the websites users were attempting to access was supplied to Jet Infosystems by Sandvine Inc, a US based company.
Who is Sandvine?
Sandvine is held in California by a larger tech company. They specialize in creating a wide array of products that can be used to censor the internet and spy on users, although they claim that this is not the intended purpose of their products. It is not clear what else their purpose might be, as any inspection and surveillance tools are, at their very core, designed to do what they are designed to do.
Sandvine makes serious claims on their website. They state that their products are never intended to be used in a “manner detrimental to human rights”, which seems to be exactly what happened. Sandvine claims that assessments are made by an ethics committee that utilizes the World Bank Index to rate stability, corruption, and freedom of speech in different countries. Countries that score low are not supposed to be provided access to Sandvine’s equipment, and the company claims that all equipment sold requires the purchaser to certify that the company’s tech won’t be used to facilitate human rights violations.
Researchers at Toronto’s Citizen Lab have uncovered a whole host of malicious applications of Sandvine’s technology across the middle east. Sandvine’s products are often used to redirect users in high censorship countries, causing them to unknowingly download spyware or other malware. Sandvine denies the allegations, despite the fact that they are plentiful and demonstrably true.
Browsing the Internet Without Intervention in Belarus
The only way to circumvent oppressive technology and equipment like Sandvine’s is to make yourself invulnerable to deep packet inspection. A VPN with stealth protocol, like TorGuard VPN, will completely cover a user’s tracks. Stealth protocol VPNs like WireGuard, Stunnel, and OpenVPN obfuscation won’t even show that a VPN is being used to protect traffic. Packets look like normal HTTPS packets with no evidence of protection. These VPNs can be used to bypass all blocks that impact the open internet, including those to social media platforms and legitimate news outlets.