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Russia Is Considering An Experiment To Disconnect From The Internet

Russia is considering disconnecting from the global Internet to test its defenses against cyberattack.
Mladen Antonov
AFP/Getty Images
Russia is considering disconnecting from the global Internet to test its defenses against cyberattack.

Russia is considering a plan to temporarily disconnect from the Internet as a way to gauge how the country's cyberdefenses would fare in the face of foreign aggression, according to Russian media.

The experiment comes as lawmakers there assess the Digital Economy National Program, draft legislation that was submitted to Russia's parliament last year, according to the RBK news agency.

The bill would require Internet providers to make sure they can operate if foreign countries attempt to isolate the Runet, or Russian Internet. It was introduced after the White House published its 2018 National Security Strategy, which attributed cyberattacks on the United States to Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

As part of the experiment, communications oversight agency Roskomnadzor would examine whether data transmitted between Russia's users can remain in the country without being rerouted to servers abroad, where it could be subjected to interception.

The exercise follows aspirations of building an autonomous Internet infrastructure with the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In one indication that the country has considered a sovereign Internet, Moscow announced its intention to build an alternative to the global Domain Name System, a directory that translates Internet names into numbers for computers.

Russia's Communications Ministry also simulated a switching-off exercise of global Internet services in 2014, according to Russian outlet RT. It reportedly used an internal backup system to support Web operations.

At the time, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Interfax news agency, "Russia's disconnection from the global Internet is of course out of the question ."

But a Duma deputy recently said it was a real possibility as relations worsen with the West. "The calls to increase pressure on our country being made in the West oblige us to think about additional ways to protect Russian sovereignty in cyber-space," Leonid Levin, chairman of the Committee on Informational Policy, Technologies and Communications, said at a January forum, according to Interfax.

"Russia's disconnection from the worldwide web is one possible scenario amid the escalation of international tensions," he added.

Russia's State Duma will meet Tuesday to consider the bill, according to RIA Novosti.

Media outlets report that the unplugging exercise could be conducted before April 1.

Roskomnadzor has also exerted pressure on Google to remove certain sites on Russian searches.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress last month that Russia, as well as other foreign actors, will increasingly use cyber operations to "threaten both minds and machines in an expanding number of ways—to steal information, to influence our citizens, or to disrupt critical infrastructure."

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Sasha Ingber is a reporter on NPR's breaking news desk, where she covers national and international affairs of the day.