Russian authorities have cracked down hard on their citizen’s access to free information online after its internet regulator started an attack on the encrypted messaging service Telegram.
But it’s not just this one instance—Russia has previously systematically engaged in censorship of both enterprise and citizens’ free speech on the internet for a significant amount of time, but not to this scale before. The attack on Telegram is the first time Russia has mass blocked protocol addresses.
As Telegram was switching server providers, the Russian governmental regulator soon shut each down. It’s become clear to commentators in technology that Russian cyber prowess in the modern era may be virtually unmatched.
What will citizens do to overcome the censorship as they stare down the barrel of a possible national firewall much like the Great Firewall of China? The dark web might provide a sanctuary, free from regulation and nationality. Tools like Tor and other software necessary to access the dark web may become tools required in order for Russian citizens to access unfiltered information.
Telegram has serious popularity in Russia, used by over 15 million citizens, and its founders began the operation in Russia. However, over time it became clear that the Russian government agenda would stand in the way of the founder’s vision of private and encrypted messaging for the masses.
Telegram moved its base overseas, down to a major business hub of the new century: Dubai. As cryptocurrency grew, largely as a result of the dark web and Silk Road, Telegram became a service used by many within the cryptocurrency community to communicate.
A Brief History of Russian Cyber Prowess
What is today’s state of the internet? It looks different depending on your location. Originally, though, the internet was foremost a tool created by government, before getting developed over the years by schools as well as universities.
It then morphed into a general communications tool, connecting the tech savvy to other users and information on basic pages.
As the year 2000 and a new millennium approached, the internet became a buzz. A bubble. It became a mystical money maker. The bubble burst and the technology giants began to rebuild.
The rule around this time was never use your personal information on the internet. Parents would warn their kids entering chat rooms. Enter Google, Amazon and Facebook. It all soon changed.
Information became the true commodity of the internet. Your real identity became the necessary passport. Employers look at prospective employees without Facebook as hiding something—sometimes passing on them.
Some even forcing employees to fork over their passwords.
From around 2010 onwards, the internet had two major underlying functions, beyond the trivial communication tools. It was the analytical monster, the information gatherer. And it became the new battlefield. Everything changed.
Stuxnet and the New Internet
Following the Stuxnet attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, it became clear the internet had outgrown itself as a mere communication tool for people.
It had become a communication tool for computers, for devices, for power stations and for nations. The countries that could understand this and utilize it early would be the new world leaders. Cyber became the new arms race.
Russia learnt this fast and not only developed extensive tools that could be used as weapons, but began testing their new arsenal for world leaders to see. This was seen by all throughout Russian intervention in Ukraine.
Every superpowers’ ears stood up and eyes watched. Every superpower took note. Russia was here, and it could shut down power stations and target nations’ infrastructure. This was the stuff of the movies playing out in real life.
Many users who frequent the dark web have wider eyes than an average person, but even to them Russian capabilities and tactics on this front were alarming.
Russia had tentacles across the whole new infrastructure of the new internet. An internet interwoven into vital national systems. Interwoven into citizens’ lives. Interwoven into everything.
The United States gets all the press. The NSA, the CIA, the WikiLeaks data dumps, the Snowden revelations. It goes on and on. We all get so much information about these organizations that we all assume the U.S. is at the top of the cyber table.
Sure, they have all the money, with a defense budget some might call foolishly large, but it’s the secret governmental organizations we don’t get leaks about that should seriously concern us. Great Britain’s GCHQ. Russia’s RKN or FSB. It’s only through smoke and mirrors that we learn about their capabilities. Through war in Ukraine.
Back to Russian Citizens and Telegram
Now, after years of waiting, it’s become clear that those in the private sector, private citizens, will not be spared against the Russian regime and its powers.
Telegram lost a kangaroo court trial in Russia and was forced to hand over the private encryption keys to the government. Telegram is a messaging service built on privacy. Its founder is strongly opposed to oppressive behaviors.
Telegram advised it would not be handing over the keys to its castle, and Russia responded against them.
Russians Need the Dark Web
Russian citizens are going to need the dark web. They are going to need a place online free from the oppressive behaviors of their government. We all might. Just because your country has not flexed its muscle against its citizens in the same fashion as Russia has recently, it doesn’t mean the slow burn of censorship and oppression hasn’t begun to creep into our lives.
Pirated sites are blocked in Australia and in the United Kingdom. Some adult content sites are being blocked in the U.K. It starts there. Where does it end? With a nation state blocking basic communication applications utilized by their own citizens? Blocking their own fellow countrymen and women’s businesses?
The Russian government continues to block essential services in a new effort to prevent its citizens from accessing the wider internet, and this may lead to fewer and fewer options for people to access information. The dark web and tools like Tor may become an important part to how Russian nationals access the wider internet.
With the true nature of cyber warfare only beginning, it’s impossible to say. But the dark web will thrive and act as refugee for users suppressed.
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