Experts told the UK Daily Telegraph the tests were run to prepare for an information blackout in case of a potential domestic political crisis. The attempt to cut Russia from the Internet has stoked fears about the Kremlin stripping Internet freedoms from its citizens.
Andrei Semerikov, general director of Russian Internet provider Er Telecom, told the newspaper it was ordered by the ministry of communications and Russia’s national Internet regulator, Roskomnadzor, to block traffic to foreign communications channels by using DPI, a traffic control system.
The goal was to see if Russia’s Internet could continue to function even though it was cut off from the global Internet.
Russian officials denied any experiment took place. A spokesman for Roskomnadzor told The Telegraph “there was not such experiment.” Another spokesman told Russian newspaper RBK that Semerikov’s comments were taken out of context.
However, RBK reported that a similar test to cut Russia from the World Wide Web was conducted last July. The FSB, Russia’s defense ministry and interior ministry collaborated with the country’s telephone operator to see if a national intranet made up of certain Russian domain names could survive if cut off from other parts of the web.
Russian president Vladimir Putin reportedly ordered the test to assess the country’s Internet capabilities should Western sanctions cut off the country from the Internet. The test resulted in a move to build a backup infrastructure to ensure the Internet could continue to operate.
Andrei Soldatov, an expert in Russian security services, told the UK Daily Telegraph the tests are a “pretext” and said the government is getting ready for the possibility of shutting down the flow of information from the outside world.
“This is actually just one of a series of such experiments, and it gives us a very good idea of what they have in mind,” Soldatov said. “If you look at the doctrine of information security, it is all about the same thing: the fear of Western countries using the Internet as an instrument of influence in Russia and so on.”
Russia has a number of restrictive Internet laws. The government can blacklist websites, deeming them as “extremist” websites or unsafe for children to view.