On December 29, German Klimenko, President Vladimir Putin’s adviser on Internet issues, commented on pending legislation aimed at tightening regulations on RuNet – the Russian internet.
Klimenko said the new law is about the “protection of critically important infrastructure” from hackers.
Klimenko referred to how “our Western partners shut off Crimea from the Google and Microsoft services. And owners of domains who reside in Crimea lost what they had earned.”
Klimenko then said: “Our country must be prepared that it will be cut off from the worldwide internet -- the likelihood of 'tectonic shifts' in our relations with the West in the direction of deterioration.”
Internet experts contacted by Polygraph.info said that it is theoretically possible to cut off much of a country’s access to the internet from the outside.
Among the possible ways would be to cut fiber optic cables going in and out of the country, they said. Another possibility would be to convince telecommunications providers to coordinate an attempted shutdown and sever services simultaneously, they added.
Despite that, a total shutdown of Russian internet service would be a highly impractical endeavor, according to experts.
Similar to most countries, Russia has a diverse and redundant fiber-optic infrastructure that provides access to the internet through Europe and Asia, internet expert Doug Madory told Polygraph.info in an email.
“There are multiple telecoms with multiple international links,” said Madory, the director of internet analysis at Dyn, a company that monitors internet performance. “It is not like North Korea with a single link to the outside.”
Khatuna Mshvidobadze, a professor of cyber security at Utica College, told Polygraph.info: “It would require a coalition of European and Asian governments to cut off the internet to Russia – an impossible mission.”
Moreover, she added, Russia has satellite uplinks and downlinks, guaranteeing that the country could not be completely cut off from the global web.
Mshvidobadze said that to deny Russia internet access “any imaginable technological capability would not only be incredibly expensive, it is yet to be developed.”
Jeffrey Carr, an expert in cyber-warfare and the head of Taia Global, told Polygraph.info that cutting Russia off the internet “is not realistic at all. Even if every U.S. telecommunications provider cuts Russia out - which would never happen - Russia could access the global internet through any of China’s telecommunications companies.”
Christopher Burgess, the chief executive officer at Prevendra, a cyber-security firm, told Polygraph.info that while it is possible to block certain domains from the internet, “no country or a coalition would universally block ‘.ru.’” – the Russian internet domain.
And, even if that were to be attempted, it does not mean that Russia would be taken off the internet, he said.
“It is theoretically possible, but improbable," Burgess said. "At best, there would be a disruption.”
As for Klimenko's comment on how some Western providers cut access to Crimea on specific commercial services, Burgess said “the service providers Google, Microsoft, PayPal, Visa and MasterCard were mandated to deny services to the Crimea region following its annexation,” he said.
Burgess added that domain owners lost access to the advertising offerings of Google’s Adwords, Microsoft Bing, and other providers.
But that is a far cry from Russia from being cut off from the internet.
“They haven't blocked internet connections themselves, just the ability of people in Crimea to access the websites of certain U.S. companies,” cyber expert Madory said:
Russia itself holds the keys to locking itself out of the global internet, experts say.
“If the Russian government were to order the major Russian telecoms to disable their international connections, they would likely be required to comply,” Madory said.
“If the two major fixed line carriers (Rostelecom, TTK) and ‘big three’ mobile networks (MTS, Vimpelcom, Megafon) cut their links to the outside world, it would disable much of the international capacity for Russia," he said.