Telecom Giant Lumen ‘Punishes’ Putin By Encouraging His Plan For A Censored Splinternet
from the first-do-no-harm dept
Last week we noted how telecom backbone provider Cogent had decided to “punish Putin” for slaughtering Ukrainian civilians by severing the company’s transit routes to Russia. Cogent insisted that sanctions and an “uncertain security situation” made it “impossible for Cogent to continue to provide you with service.”
While the goal is usually to apply pressure on the public to oust a dictator or kleptocrat, historically this form of pressure doesn’t always work all that well. In large part because the country you’re pressuring doesn’t really adhere to any kind of democratic norm, so the brunt of bearing the pain falls on the shoulders of ordinary and often powerless citizens, not wealthy kleptocrats.
One of Cogent’s justifications was that it didn’t want its infrastructure used to launch propaganda or denial of service attacks. But again, while the company has the prerogative to make ethical decisions, it’s not entirely clear the move does much more than hurt ordinary Russians by limiting access to independent information and services/tools beneficial to activists and reformers:
Following in Cogent’s lead, Lumen (formerly Centurylink) has also announced its intention to exit Russia. And again, groups and experts were quick to point out this wouldn’t have quite the impact companies seem to think:
“Disconnecting Russia from the global Internet means leaving Russian people only with state propaganda that is telling them that Ukrainian people are their enemies. This will silence the antiwar voices and it will hurt Ukraine,” said Natalia Krapiva, a digital rights attorney with the Internet freedom group Access Now.
Putin has spent years publicly stating he envisions a future Russian splinternet severed from the rest of the world. The goal: restricted access to independent information, easier surveillance, and easier distribution of propaganda. So recent events have numerous organizations, like the Internet Society, urging for a bit of reflection and caution in the space:
We must not ease the path for those who hate the Internet and its ability to empower people. We must fight the suppression of the Internet. This means making sure connectivity does not stop for anyone. It means ensuring that strong encryption, which protects ordinary communications, but also allows political discourse in the face of censorship, is always available. It means making sure the critical properties of the Internet are not undermined by legislation, no matter how well-meaning. It means making interconnections cheap and easy and ubiquitous, so that all networks are reliable and robust systems that can be made from unreliable parts. It means dedicating ourselves to ensuring that the Internet is for everyone.
The severing of key transit routes might feel good for those powerlessly watching the horrors in Ukraine, though it risks giving Putin something he’s been dreaming of for years: a state-controlled alternative to the real Internet. From there, all of these problems get worse.
Filed Under: backbone, censorship, infrastructure, internet, russia, surveillance, telecom, transit
Companies: cogent, lumen
Comments on “Telecom Giant Lumen ‘Punishes’ Putin By Encouraging His Plan For A Censored Splinternet”
The only way for ordinary russians to speak out or acess independent media or find out news that’s not government proproganda is to use the Web cutting off acess to it will only help the government and also weaken the economy
also Russian people use vpns to acess the bbc and other news sources
Cutting off Russian acess to the Web is an awful idea at this time
ISPs saving us from Russian cyberattacks
Cogent and Lumen are significantly degrading Russia’s ability to orchestrate DDoS and botnet attacks. All Western ISPs should drop BGP routes with Russian ISPs to protect critical infrastructure. Russians that want to know what’s really happening have already endeavored to find out, and in Aleksey Navalny’s words, a “nation of frightened cowards” is not going to overthrow Putin anyway. (Navalny himself is a Russian nationalist that doesn’t see Ukrainians as a separate nation.)
How are botnet attacks affected? Generally, they’re more effective the closer they are to their targets, which is to say that if Russia were organizing such an attack against “The West”, they’d make sure that’s where most of the bots were located. They just need to get out the command to start the attack, which Putin will have no trouble doing (maybe have a foreign employee do it over McDonald’s wi-fi antenna while getting Big Macs for him). Had the bots been inside Russia, Cogent et al. could’ve watched for and stopped attacks from there.
When China created what we call “The Great Firewall of China” this discussion came up as well. It can be summed as “If they don’t want to be part of the ‘Net and accept all its good stuff and its swill let’s just cut them off.”
Begging the question of why we would exactly what they want… it serves little to no purpose to cut off the very users that WE want engaging in intelligent conversation.
Thata brings up “who are WE to tell another country’s rulers how to fun their country?” War is unacceptable, and the global community gets to say “Russia, stop this war.” However, when it comes to thinks like “Can you read FB and post a picture of your cat, if Russia says Nyet I’m of the mind it’s none of our business.”
I suspect Cogent and Lumen’s motive is that international links (Cogent runs their own fiber network) and paying for transit don’t work very well when the client is unable to pay in other than rubles (https://www.foxbusiness.com/money/russia-debts-ruble-sanctions) but that US Government sanctions on doing business with Russia would prevent them from providing transit services or accepting payment.
And to top that off, EVEN IF the ISPs wanted to continue the service, and Russia wanted to pay… their banks have been cut off from our banking networks. Unlike our administration they won’t be airlifting palettes of cash to bring to the US.
Russia can always buy transit from any other country that has it and the infrastructure to connect it.
“If they don’t want to be part of the ‘Net and accept all its good stuff and its swill let’s just cut them off.”
The problem here is define “they”. It’s not the average Russian or Chinese citizen who wants this, necessarily, it’s their governments. The reason they want it is to exercise greater control over the lives and minds of their citizens and reduce their access to outside aid and influence.
If you’re OK with that then by any means defer to what “they” want. But, know that people will suffer as a result, and those people are likely not asking for this.
“Thata brings up “who are WE to tell another country’s rulers how to fun their country?”
That’s a fair attitude when dealing with other free societies, but when you’re dealing with countries with poor human rights records and a tendency toward autocratic rule, there is some concern about those who would suffer under the regime which might inspire the need for some action.
Not by directly telling them how to run their country, necessarily, but by providing support and communications for people who don’t have the same power to challenge their governments that we enjoy.
Social media is a major route for world news to reach inside Russia, and more so with the new expats leaving Russia as a protest against the war, and as a way of keeping in touch with friends and family inside Russia.
Perhaps I'm naïve, but...
I can’t help but think that whether Russia/Putin succeeds in severing their “splinternet” from the rest of the world or not, the Russian people with the desire and technological chops to get information from the outside world will do so, and those that trust the news from the Kremlin will not bother to look for information from outside. Undoubtedly I am missing some larger context here, but I can’t see how cutting Russia off can make much difference one way or the other. Unfortunately, I think that the vast majority of the Russian population (approx. 65% according to a story on NPR if recent memory serves) are not inclined to seek out news sources other than Kremlin produced television news/propaganda. I fear that this would be true even if Russia had unfettered access the the internet. It is hard to change minds, when a large majority of the people have an easy route to dis/misinformation, and a difficult route to alternative news sources.
“the Russian people with the desire and technological chops to get information from the outside world will do so”
For a while. Then, when the old KGB starts doing the same tricks and they start sending all the dissidents to the gulags, even those who recognise the fictions for what they are will be less motivated to seek out alternative communications to protect themselves and their families. Then, as time goes on, the children of the people who play along despite not believing it will have never experience any other source of reporting first hand.
“Unfortunately, I think that the vast majority of the Russian population (approx. 65% according to a story on NPR if recent memory serves) are not inclined to seek out news sources other than Kremlin produced television news/propaganda”
The question there is – how accurately are people self-reporting in those surveys? Some people who remember the tales of the USSR, or experienced it first hand, might not be so eager to announce that they aren’t toeing the party line, even if there’s no immediate danger yet. I’m guess there would be an incentive to nod and say yes, I believe the Kremlin, even if they were getting their news from the independent stations at the time.
That might not be the case, but I think that this is one area where you can’t assume that people are always reporting their own activity accurately, even if the surveys are perfectly anonymous.