Russia successfully tests its 'alternative internet', claims readiness to respond to negative influences

Activists are saying that it's a move to increase the censorship and the surveillance powers of the Russian government.

Russia has been successful in testing its alternative to the global internet — the Russian sovereign internet, also known as Runet.

This proposal was signed into law by Russian President Vladimir Putin in May this year, which would expand the Russian government's control over the internet within the country.

This alternative internet, which can be shut off at will by internet service providers, has passed its testing phase according to the Russian government. The results of this test will soon be presented to Putin. There is no clarity as to what the testing involved, but the Ministry of Communications said that internet users did not notice any changes, according to a report in the BBC. This version of the internet is also known as the sovereign Runet.

For Russia's alternative internet to work, the internet service providers and telcos will have to be hands in glove with the government. According to the BBC, the main objective is to have an ability to restrict the internet at the point where Russia's internet connects to the global internet. The undersea cables or 'nodes', which bring in the global internet to Russia (and from where Russian internet connects to the rest of the world) would need to be blocked or regulated at the very least for the sovereign Runet to work.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Since the internet is being blocked at the node level, even using virtual private networks (VPNs) which are generally used to mask your location, will not work, according to the ministry.

Russia doesn't just want to stop at that. Russia is planning to pass a law which could make it difficult for consumer gadget makers to sell their products in the Russian market. The proposed law, which is expected to be passed by July 2020, states that gadgets such as smartphones, computers, smart TVs and so on, which do not come pre-installed with Russian software, will be banned from the Russian market. The exact list of products is still to be decided by the government.

There are plans to have an alternative to Wikipedia as well.

According to local news agencies such as Pravda, the tests went according to plan. "The results of the exercises showed that, in general, both the authorities and telecoms operators are ready to effectively respond to emerging risks and threats, to ensure the stable functioning of both the internet and unified telecommunication network in the Russian Federation," said a Ministry of Communications spokesperson as quoted by the BBC.

Another state-owned news agency Tass stated that the tests had given the authorities a good idea about the vulnerabilities of the internet of things devices. The tests also involved exercises to test Runet's ability to face external negative influences.

Activists are saying that it's a move to increase the censorship and the surveillance powers of the Russian government. This is the same kind of alternative internet that even China has, along with its 'Great Firewall of China' which blocks certain American websites from showing up in China. Russia authorities may also try to sell the narrative that Runet would give a boost to Russian apps and services.

But if past actions of the Russian government are any indicators, there have been glitches in the technical execution of such projects. The most popular one being the government's attempt to block the encrypted messaging app, Telegram. There is no way to know how far Russia has come since, without knowing more technical aspects of the test conducted according to experts.

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