Will Russia disconnecting from the Internet up the stakes in cyber defense?

Will Russia disconnecting from the Internet up the stakes in cyber defense? 

Horace C. White 

Modern Tokyo Times

U.S.-Russia relations may worsen as Russia initiates moves to disconnect from the Internet 

Just when everyone thought that the Cold War between the United States and Russia had ended, Russian officials are taking major steps that suggest it is far from over. Reports say that this move will see Moscow experimenting with a new network that will serve as a backup in an event of Russia disconnecting from the Internet. Basically, the government is looking to test-run its Internet called Runet (Russian internet). For many analysts who wish to see the two powerful countries bury the hatchet, this move is a major setback. Already, the Russian government has drafted a policy to back this project with a go-ahead from its parliament. During the experiment, which is scheduled to take place before April 1st, Russia and her leading Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will disconnect its country from the Internet.

Performing the Experiment

In the past, the United States and Russia have disagreed on a number of issues. Today, Internet control has become a bone of contention between the two rivals. In recent years, United States citizens and companies have witnessed cyberattacks of unprecedented proportions with Washington insisting that Moscow is behind these cyber assaults. Consequently, Russia is concerned that the United States may go for its jugular by cutting it off from the Internet during a time of heightened tensions.

In January 2019, Russian authorities disclosed that it would perform the experiment with some key industry players. At the end of a workshop, which had some industry players in attendance, a group was inaugurated to fashion out the modalities of carrying out the experiment. According to local media sources, the group – known as the Information Security Working Group – will be chaired by Natalya Kaspersky, a cyber-security expert. Indeed, members of the group are Russia’s leading telecoms, such as RosTelecom, Beeline, MegaFon, etc. Upon successful implementation of this project by 2020, Russia estimates to be routing 95% of its own internet traffic locally.

US government’s influence on the Internet

Many worry that Russian authorities are going ahead with this project given that the United States has little or no control over the Internet. Over the years, some countries have remained resolute to see the United States cede its control of the Internet. These nations wish to censor Internet content in which their citizens are exposed to. Much as the Internet is a United States invention, countries such as Russia, China, and Iran have been jittery over the United States government’s Internet control. These countries are worried because the United States upholds the freedom and liberty of ordinary people, which is contrary to their belief and legal systems. Despite their criticisms, the United States government refused to dance to their tune, citing national security and humanitarian concerns. Nevertheless, the Obama Administration gave into their pressures, leaving the United States with less influence over the Internet.

How did the US relinquish its control over the Internet?  

Beyond doubts, this piece would be incomplete without mentioning the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a California-based nonprofit that oversees the assignment of IP addresses for domain names. Until September 30th, 2016, the United States had full control over the Internet with the International Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) assigning IP addresses to the world. Technically, IANA is one of the functions of ICANN. ICANN previously had a contract with the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA), a unit of the US Department of Commerce. In respect to its role, NTIA vets all IP addresses before they are approved for domain name usage.

On October 1st, 2016, the contract between the two organizations expired. Although the contract was renewable for another three-year period, the Obama Administration refused to do so against Congress’ consent. As a result, the United States lost total control over the Internet, and Russia now will be able to up the ante of cyber defense.

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