Ukraine wants to ban Russia from the internet

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The Internet is more than just hardware. It is also a global network with common standards and protocols. Some of them, such as B. Domain Name Servers (DNS), provide the main list of addresses for all Internet resources.

Due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Andrii Nabok, Ukraine’s representative at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), and Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Digital Transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, have demanded that Russia’s top-level domains ( TLD) such as .ru, .рф, and .su along with their associated Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates. They want to stop the Russian propaganda machine and prevent further propaganda and disinformation.

“These heinous crimes were made possible largely by the Russian propaganda machine, which uses websites that continually spread disinformation and hate speech, encourage violence and hide the truth about the war in Ukraine,” Nabok said.

Fedorov also demanded that RIPE NCC, the regional internet registrar for Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia, revoke Russia and its Local Internet Registries (LIR) the rights to use the IPv4 and IPv6 addresses assigned to them and their DNS -Root server locks.

Should it come to that, it would be an unprecedented move. In the past, Russia has deliberately disconnected from the Internet to test its security. But it would be an entirely different story if ICANN and RIPE allowed NCC and Ukraine’s request to “shutdown Russian DNS root servers.”

While DNS is primarily for browsers, it’s much more than that. Everything that runs on the internet – Slack, email, whatever – DNS works behind the scenes to ensure that all application requests match the corresponding internet resources. Whether it’s a website, email link, or FTP site, they all have an IPv4 address, or the equivalent of an IPv6 address, and the 13 DNS master root servers track them all. These authoritative DNS servers contain the addresses for every internet-connected device in the world. DNS is essential, and without DNS there is no practical Internet.

Widespread skepticism

Bill Woodcock, executive director of the Packet Clearing House, the international organization responsible for the operational support and security of critical internet infrastructure, sums up what he thinks would happen to the Russian internet in a series of tweets. First, Russian websites and emails would become inaccessible from outside Russia. Next, connectivity would become patchy for many users within Russia, but mostly for ordinary people, not government or military users. Finally, the security of the Routing Policy Specification Language (RPSL) and Resource Public Key Infrastructure (RPKI) protecting Russian Internet routing would be compromised. Woodcock believes that this would “make Russian civilian internet users much more vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks, such as those used to compromise banking credentials and website passwords,” while having “little to no impact on the Russian government or the military.” Even though “Russia is doing a lot of bad things right now and retaliation is in order, that’s not the way to go.”

Paul Twomey, former ICANN President and CEO, agrees. Twomey wrote in a tweet, “Keeping the log layer up and running in Russia is the best way to ensure sites that hold dissenting opinions for Russian audiences are effective.”

So far, there is no broad support for banning Russia from the internet. The Board of the RIPE NCC has previously stated “that the means of communication should not be compromised by domestic disputes, international conflicts or war. This also includes the provision of correctly registered Internet numbers”.

On the ICANN AtLarge mailing list, Prof. Dr. Erich Schweighofer, professor at the University of Vienna: “Taking Russia off the internet does not help to support civil society in this country for democratic change. ICANN is a neutral platform that does not take a position in this conflict but allows states to act accordingly, e.g. to block all traffic from a specific state.”

So while Anonymous and other hacking groups are conducting attacks on the Russian Internet, it is unlikely, at least for now, that RIPE NCC or ICANN will take any action against Russia.

Internet restricted in Ukraine

Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has damaged the Ukrainian internet. Therefore, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov asked SpaceX and Tesla billionaire Elon Musk for help.

Musk replied that he would activate the Starlink service in Ukraine and send Starlink terminals. Some felt this was just a PR stunt. These pessimists have been taught better.

On February 28, Fedorov tweeted: “Starlink – here. Thanks @elonmusk,” along with a photo of what appears to be a military truck filled with Starlink terminals. Musk replied, “No thanks.”

Russia continues to encroach on Ukraine’s fixed-line internet. Georgia Tech’s Project Internet Outage Detection and Analysis (IODA), which monitors Internet traffic, reported more outages in Ukraine. These began late on February 23 and continue to this day.

NetBlocks and other similar groups are reporting that GigaTrans, Ukraine’s main internet service provider, has had its traffic disrupted since February 24. NetBlocks also reported internet outages in major Ukrainian cities like Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Mariupol.

SpaceX’s high-speed, low-latency Starlink internet service in low-Earth Orbit (LEO) avoids the problems associated with traditional fixed-line broadband connections. Unlike the cables and exchanges of the traditional Internet, the Starlink satellites are theoretically immune to missile and artillery attacks.

Update March 4, 2022, 1:46 p.m

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk warns people in Ukraine to use Starlink with caution. He indicated that the Starlink satellite internet service is likely to be attacked during the ongoing Russian invasion because it is a non-Russian communications system. Musk advised users to turn on Starlink only when necessary and to place the antenna as far away from people as possible. He also suggested camouflage the antennas invisibly.

Will the satellites be shot down?

However, as the director of the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), Christopher Scolese, recently warned, the Russian military can attack satellites to disrupt satellite-based internet traffic, communications and GPS services. Scolese said that if Russia deems it necessary, it will expand its war into space.

Russia recently demonstrated that it can use an anti-satellite missile (ASAT) to destroy orbiting satellites. Additionally, the US military has long feared that in the event of war, Russia could jam GPS and communications satellites.

Besides disrupting Ukraine’s internet, Russia has also targeted Ukraine with other cyber attacks. On January 15, 2022, Russia injected malware and conducted a DDoS attack on Ukrainian websites. More recently, Russia has attacked Ukrainian websites using destructive wiper malware such as IssacWiper and HermeticWiper. Both malware attacks destroy the target’s data.

Despite Russia’s best efforts, Cloudflare Radar shows that Ukrainian internet traffic, while down significantly, is still doing well. The vast majority of these network attacks, 86%, are distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. With the help of Starlink, the Ukrainian Internet should be able to keep up for the time being, unless Russia shoots down the satellites.

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