PRESIDENT Putin has ordered Russia to unplug itself from the internet. The nation accused of planning to use submarines to cut vital international cables wants to make sure its own economy can survive 'offline'.

Russian media reports the civil-defence exercise is expected to take place at an unspecified time before April 1. It's all about testing measures put in place in the event of war - when an 'aggressor' could cut its digital umbilical cords.

According to RosBiznesKonsalting, Moscow is drafting a law stating that all internal internet service providers (ISPs) must continue to remain functional even if isolated from the rest of the world.

"According to the proposals, operators and internet providers will have to 'ensure the installation' in their networks of technical means to counter threats," RBK reports.

The test 'decoupling' of the world wide web is to determine what technical and legal challenges remain in order to complete legislation currently before the Kremlin and ensure its ISPs must comply.

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his nation’s internet service providers to reroute all traffic through state-controlled junctions. Picture: AFP
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his nation’s internet service providers to reroute all traffic through state-controlled junctions. Picture: AFP

 

ISOLATIONIST ACT

The legislation was introduced late last year. It also requires all ISPs to reroute all traffic through physical internet exchange points controlled by Russia's telecommunications regulator, Roskomnadzor.

This would also make Kremlin monitoring of all internal internet traffic, and contact with the outside world, much easier. Roskomnadzor has already announced its intention to block all prohibited content, and ensure Russian-to-Russian communications will not be channelled outside the country where it can be intercepted by foreign agencies.

The disconnection will be overseen by the Kremlin's Information Security Working Group, which includes the co-founder of the controversial Russian cybersecurity firm Kasperksy Lab.

Analysts will also use the results of the experiments to instruct Russian internet services how to comply with the new laws.

Moscow states it wants at least 95 per cent of all internet services rerouted internally before next year.

As a deadline of April 1 has been imposed for the passing of the new law, the experiment digital 'disconnect' must happen before then.

 

The ‘Great Firewall’ of China, where all international access to the internet is strictly regulated, may be what Russia intends to replicate.  Picture: iStock.
The ‘Great Firewall’ of China, where all international access to the internet is strictly regulated, may be what Russia intends to replicate. Picture: iStock.

 

DIGITAL CURTAIN

It's a move reminiscent of that imposed upon Communist China's internet connectivity with the outside world. Beijing controls all international access points, and blocks its citizens' access to services such as Google Maps, Facebook, Youtube, Wikipedia, Twitter, Instagram - and many others deemed unsuitable.

State-approved social media services are heavily monitored by the Communist Party, with a long list of banned subjects being used to crack down on any hint of internal dissent.

Moscow may intend to similarly isolate and control its citizens.

Last year, Moscow banned access by the encrypted messaging app Telegram - created by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov. It had refused to provide the codes necessary for the Kremlin's security services to access all communications.

Moscow already blocks access to international sites relating to its annexation of Crimea and Georgia, jobs profile and communications site Linkedin, video streamer Dailymotion - and others.

 

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin inside
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin inside "Mir-1" mini-submersible. Such submarines hve been increasingly active around the world’s undersea internet cable choke-points. Picture: AFP

 

OMINOUS IMPLICATIONS

Military analysts have been raising alarm at the increasing amount of Russian submarine activity around key junction points and stretches of undersea internet cabling.

These are potentially vulnerable 'choke points' which, if severed, could bring down the entire world wide web.

In December 2017, a senior UK military officer warned any attack on the cables would "immediately and potentially catastrophically" affect the worldwide economy.

But experts are divided over the threat.

And exactly what the Russian mini-submarines have been up to remains unknown.

Are they preparing to sever the cables, or have they been 'wire-tapping' them?

There are some 430 undersea internet cables worldwide. One is damaged every few days by the likes of an earthquake or anchor. Traffic is quickly rerouted, if such connectivity is available, to bypass any effect.

But experts agree, a worldwide co-ordinated attack does have the potential to bring down international communications.


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