23 votes

Russia Closes its Grip on the Internet

32 comments

  1. [12]
    nothis Link
    From a comparison to China's censorship at the end of the article: It annoys me a little when people bring up VPNs as some kind of magical solution in situations like that. VPNs can easily be...

    From a comparison to China's censorship at the end of the article:

    They’ve also been cracking down on virtual private networks — software that can be used to get around internet filters by creating encrypted links between computers and blocked sites.

    It annoys me a little when people bring up VPNs as some kind of magical solution in situations like that. VPNs can easily be blocked if a government truly wants to and (as it's slowly starting to be the case) understands how. Encryption? Let's just ban encryption then, any traffic not readable gets blocked.

    We're as dependent on governments when it comes to internet freedom as with any other technology. The laws just take a few years to catch up. The internet wasn't relevant until facebook, 10 years later, governments are catching up.

    12 votes
    1. [2]
      Pilgrim Link Parent
      Businesses make extensive use of VPN so I can see that being a hurdle to outright banning them. But yes, it's not really a good defense as to why this isn't a big deal (it's a HUGE deal!).

      Businesses make extensive use of VPN so I can see that being a hurdle to outright banning them. But yes, it's not really a good defense as to why this isn't a big deal (it's a HUGE deal!).

      4 votes
      1. Keegan Link Parent
        They would probably just block all the servers of VPN services like PIA, NordVPN, and all the other ones. Business VPNs would probably still be okay.

        They would probably just block all the servers of VPN services like PIA, NordVPN, and all the other ones. Business VPNs would probably still be okay.

        2 votes
    2. [7]
      guts Link Parent
      What's a better alternative to VPN?

      It annoys me a little when people bring up VPNs as some kind of magical solution in situations like that. VPNs can easily be blocked if a government truly wants to and (as it's slowly starting to be the case) understands how. Encryption? Let's just ban encryption then, any traffic not readable gets blocked.

      What's a better alternative to VPN?

      4 votes
      1. [4]
        9000 (edited ) Link Parent
        I think the point @nothis is trying to make is that current internet infrastructure, while decentralized, is centralized enough to make it controllable by a government. There are only so many...

        I think the point @nothis is trying to make is that current internet infrastructure, while decentralized, is centralized enough to make it controllable by a government. There are only so many ISPs, and even fewer international junctures, that a government can be draconian if they so please. For instance, they could require government registration to allow encrypted packets. This would even prevent TLS tunneled VPNs, while still allowing major banking institutions to use HTTPS.

        Thus, since the diagnosed problem is so core to the current structure of the internet, I think the solution has to be proportionally radical. Something like a grassroots meshnet where individual participants run their own node. Possibly supplemented with sneakernet. Projects like this already exist, such as NYC Mesh, but if you are really concerned about anti-censorship, you'd need cjdns, Yggdrasil, GNUNet, or i2p on top of it (there are too many to name them all).

        Honestly, though, if this gained any real traction, there's still an easy next step: regulating hardware. It's already done in North Korea and some parts of China, and it's not that difficult to tell when someone has an unregistered point-to-point antennae on their roof.

        So perhaps you move in another direction, like stenography? If you make it difficult to tell that encryption is even happening, it's much harder to stop. Depending on which level this takes place, though, you have issues with bandwidth or people even knowing that you're trying to communicate with them.

        So, ultimately, my point is this: while it may never be possible to squash all super crypto geeks, a modern government has it well within their power to make all public-accessible anti-surveillance techniques unviable, if they're willing to tolerate the economic and social costs.

        5 votes
        1. [3]
          DonQuixote Link Parent
          Very astute. So raise those economic and social costs?

          Very astute. So raise those economic and social costs?

          1 vote
          1. [2]
            9000 (edited ) Link Parent
            Yeah, exactly! I think people in tech circles (I am by no means an exception here), have the problem of seeking technical solutions to what are inherently social, political, and/or economic...

            Yeah, exactly! I think people in tech circles (I am by no means an exception here), have the problem of seeking technical solutions to what are inherently social, political, and/or economic problems. Technology is part of the puzzle, but not all of it.

            For instance, take Clouflare. They are essentially a reverse-proxy for websites that provides content caching and DDoS protection for their clients. This means that if a packet is going to one of Cloudflare's servers, it can be difficult to tell which service it's actually headed to. Is it going to political-dissidents-hub.example.com or pictures-of-cats.example.com? On top of all of this, they have taken an aggressively neutral stance towards content on their platform, hosting pretty much anyone who will pay them (notably including piracy sites). This, in turn, makes them an incredibly political actor, not just in spite, but because of, their neutrality. Now, if I get my little controversial site hosted on AWS and backed by Cloudflare, as long as those companies continue to host me along with much more popular content, it becomes very difficult for a government to take down just my site without large collateral damage. The article references Russia's attempts at blocking Telegram, which worked similarly. Notice that this doesn't require cutting edge crypto-tech (though that would make this easier), it depends more on the economic incentives to use a censorship resistant service. Requiring companies like Cloudflare to have servers in Russia might change the stakes to be more in the government's favor.

            This is one instance of many varieties and forms that this political dance can take. If the public can't or won't demand the respect of their rights online, how can we make respecting those rights in these would-be despots' self-interest? Equally important, how do we move these political levers of power from private entities like Cloudflare (who has so far been very principled, but need not be), and make sure that the people more broadly have the power over which rights are respected, even when their governments refuse to take on that role?

            I'm going to be completely honest here, and say that some of these ideas share a place in classic liberal thought, where free markets would become so powerful that despotism would just look unprofitable. Classic liberalism has many problems, but this game-theoretic view might be an important tool when working with such adversarial governments as Russia.

            2 votes
            1. DonQuixote Link Parent
              I think the US has weakened their perceived desirability in terms of benefitting from freedom and Democracy. We're no longer a country to emulate (if we ever were), having greater inequality than...

              I think the US has weakened their perceived desirability in terms of benefitting from freedom and Democracy. We're no longer a country to emulate (if we ever were), having greater inequality than ever, poor health care, corruption and discord, I don't think we're giving Democracy a very good name.

              2 votes
      2. hackergal Link Parent
        Most places aren't going to ban all VPN traffic. It's essential to way too many business operations. What most people say, "[Country] bans VPNs" they mean the VPN services consumers use for...

        Most places aren't going to ban all VPN traffic. It's essential to way too many business operations. What most people say, "[Country] bans VPNs" they mean the VPN services consumers use for privacy and to evade censorship. If the ban is just on mainstream VPN providers, as they are most of the time, an alternative would be to rent a VPS (Virtual Private Server) in another country and set up your own VPN tunnel to route your traffic through that. It's essentially the same thing as what the VPN providers give you, but the downside is you gotta do most of the work yourself, and there's always the chance that if you screw something up your server can become compromised.

        2 votes
    3. hackergal Link Parent
      There are probably some interesting steganography techniques to get around something like this. I'm looking forward to see how they would develop, should a blanket ban on encrypted traffic become...

      any traffic not readable gets blocked.

      There are probably some interesting steganography techniques to get around something like this. I'm looking forward to see how they would develop, should a blanket ban on encrypted traffic become mainstream.

      1 vote
    4. lordpipe (edited ) Link Parent
      They don't want to. Academia in china would grind to a halt if scientists could no longer access the full uncensored western internet. China's dilemma... if you want the science to get done, you...

      VPNs can easily be blocked if a government truly wants to and (as it's slowly starting to be the case) understands how.

      They don't want to. Academia in china would grind to a halt if scientists could no longer access the full uncensored western internet.

      China's dilemma... if you want the science to get done, you either uncensor the internet, or you remain somewhat lax on VPNs. Either way, you have a portal into free speech for a certain percentage of the population. The existence of VPNs work magic on the incentives at play, in terms of enabling free speech.

      Sadly, the magic stops when china is okay with compromising on scientific advancement. China might be competitive without VPNs in academia, it's just a matter of how efficiently they're able to control the flow of information with their versions of online digital encyclopedias.

  2. [10]
    jlpoole Link
    I've read that Amazon (Jeff Bezos) plans to encircle the globe with satellites to provide Internet access. Short of military strikes against such satellites, I do not see how governments who are...

    I've read that Amazon (Jeff Bezos) plans to encircle the globe with satellites to provide Internet access. Short of military strikes against such satellites, I do not see how governments who are trying to keep a lid on the Internet within their borders can counter such an offering.

    8 votes
    1. [3]
      yellow Link Parent
      Whatever frequencies are used could be jammed, or they could be monitored to find violators, or they could have fake access points that pose as the satellites and log whoever uses them. I don't...

      Whatever frequencies are used could be jammed, or they could be monitored to find violators, or they could have fake access points that pose as the satellites and log whoever uses them.

      I don't know what the technical plans are for any satellite internet systems, but if they require special/larger antennas the police could just look for them.

      8 votes
      1. [2]
        hackergal Link Parent
        Finding ways to disguise your antenna for your illegal satellite internet uplink sounds pretty cyberpunk. I like reading about cyberpunk dystopias but I'm not too thrilled about the ever the...

        Finding ways to disguise your antenna for your illegal satellite internet uplink sounds pretty cyberpunk. I like reading about cyberpunk dystopias but I'm not too thrilled about the ever the increasing parallels they're having to real life.

        7 votes
        1. yellow Link Parent
          Well if you want full on cyberpunk levels of cat & mouse (or even just USSR levels), ground antennas would be aimed at specific satellites in orbit following a known orbit. To counter this,...

          Well if you want full on cyberpunk levels of cat & mouse (or even just USSR levels), ground antennas would be aimed at specific satellites in orbit following a known orbit. To counter this, intercept satellites could have very similar orbits that are slightly lower altitude when going over the relevant country.

          1 vote
    2. [4]
      Sahasrahla Link Parent
      Amazon, SpaceX, and OneWeb are all working on low-latency wide-coverage satellite internet operations. Unlike terrestrial internet such constellations would be difficult for authoritarian regimes...

      Amazon, SpaceX, and OneWeb are all working on low-latency wide-coverage satellite internet operations. Unlike terrestrial internet such constellations would be difficult for authoritarian regimes to control since they wouldn't have physical access to the infrastructure. This wouldn't necessarily guarantee access to a free and open internet though: specialized equipment is needed for access (SpaceX is estimating you'll need a terminal the size of a pizza box) and these constellations could still be susceptible to political and economic pressure, e.g. like how some western tech companies allow censorship and surveillance on their platforms to gain entry to China. Despite the drawbacks though I'm hopeful for what these new internet constellations will do in terms of allowing global access to an open internet.

      7 votes
      1. [3]
        hackergal Link Parent
        Ideally people should start treating the internet as if the infrastructure was compromised anyway, and start using end to end encryption more. Use of encryption in general has gone up slowly since...

        these constellations could still be susceptible to political and economic pressure, e.g. like how some western tech companies allow censorship and surveillance on their platforms to gain entry to China.

        Ideally people should start treating the internet as if the infrastructure was compromised anyway, and start using end to end encryption more. Use of encryption in general has gone up slowly since the Snowden leaks but we still have a long way to go.

        3 votes
        1. [2]
          alyaza Link Parent
          that'll probably only come in significant numbers if larger services start to adopt it for themselves, honestly (and not the other way around). in the same way most people probably aren't going to...

          that'll probably only come in significant numbers if larger services start to adopt it for themselves, honestly (and not the other way around). in the same way most people probably aren't going to pick up alternative federated media, most people probably aren't about to make the jump to the few services which do support end-to-end, because a lot of them are pretty esoteric, pretty empty, or market themselves incredibly poorly.

          1. hackergal Link Parent
            That's why I used the word "ideally." Right now people are used to having access to whatever they want on the internet, and they don't really any consequences if whatever service they're using...

            That's why I used the word "ideally." Right now people are used to having access to whatever they want on the internet, and they don't really any consequences if whatever service they're using isn't actually that secure. If a lot of things people take for granted suddenly got censored, I'm willing to believe it wouldn't take long for at least some significant portion of the population (the tech-savvy portion anyway) to seek out the easiest way around it.

    3. ThatFanficGuy Link Parent
      "Hey Jeff, that's a nice business you've got there. Would be a shame if something happened to it..." I don't know if Russia actually can do something about it. It's not a country that looks far...

      "Hey Jeff, that's a nice business you've got there. Would be a shame if something happened to it..."

      I don't know if Russia actually can do something about it. It's not a country that looks far into the future, though: greed and fear makes people stupid. If a global satellite Internet is the future, I wouldn't know if Russia right now is even capable of working out a "solution".

      2 votes
    4. papasquat Link Parent
      Tightbeam jamming, targeting those satellites while they pass over your country. It would be pretty easy to do and wouldn't require a whole lot of resources to do either. You'd still be able to...

      Tightbeam jamming, targeting those satellites while they pass over your country. It would be pretty easy to do and wouldn't require a whole lot of resources to do either. You'd still be able to receive, but since every internet protocol operates under the assumption that duplex communication is available, it would effectively cut the whole country off.

      1 vote
  3. [9]
    DonQuixote Link
    Where is the outrage? Can nothing be done? What were the barriers to Russia (and China) doing this before?

    Where is the outrage? Can nothing be done? What were the barriers to Russia (and China) doing this before?

    6 votes
    1. [5]
      ThatFanficGuy Link Parent
      You clearly have no clue what Russia is about today. It's a country run by fear, much in the same way Trump is attempting to run the US – except it's been going around for almost 20 years. People...

      You clearly have no clue what Russia is about today.

      It's a country run by fear, much in the same way Trump is attempting to run the US – except it's been going around for almost 20 years. People are afraid of a whole lot of things, the biggest and baddest of them being the West. Europe and the US are mortal enemies of the Russian state and its people – or, so Russians are being told, constantly and in loud voices – and as such, Russia is bravely taking steps to prevent the dangerous influence, including the gay propaganda and the molestation of children by the vicious forces of the free access to the Internet where they can see – good lord! – a nipple, or a vagina, or, more importantly, a political opinion opposing that of the state.

      This shit has been happening here for years. Our mobile communications are being legally tracked. This is just the next step to ensure the people in this country are either law-abiding or put in jail before they say a bad word about the corrupt, flagrantly-uncaring, militaristic government that's attempting to mortify and starve its people into submission. How well do you think it's going?

      Oh, some people are upset here. They're a quiet minority, unless someone guides you to a corner where most of them reside. There are protests that no news program will dare talk about. There are political efforts that the state-controlled media can't even fathom covering. People are upset, and some are taking action, but you won't hear about it unless someone decides to cover it – and if you do it in Russian, expect to find a kilo of cocaine in your back pocket within the next week after mentioning it.

      Most of the people don't give a shit. Their lives won't change a bit, so it's all good. They've been dumbed down, horrified out of their wits, and held constantly on a leash of increasing prices with the same wages because of a failing economy. You think they want to take a stand? What for? Nobody wants to go to jail, let alone for something they don't believe in. Be nice. Don't rock the boat. Submit and be as free as you like – as long as we know where you are at all times and can get a hold of you at a moment's notice.

      20 votes
      1. [4]
        DonQuixote Link Parent
        I wasn't talking about Russia's or China's outrage.

        I wasn't talking about Russia's or China's outrage.

        2 votes
        1. [3]
          ThatFanficGuy Link Parent
          And why should anybody else give a shit? More importantly, in what way should they do so?

          And why should anybody else give a shit? More importantly, in what way should they do so?

          5 votes
          1. [2]
            DonQuixote Link Parent
            I don't really know. If Democracy is obsolete, maybe it will just die out. China is set to grow 3 times as large as the US economy, so maybe that's a good thing. More control, more stability. I've...

            I don't really know. If Democracy is obsolete, maybe it will just die out. China is set to grow 3 times as large as the US economy, so maybe that's a good thing. More control, more stability. I've just always thought that technology could someday free us of so much control by bringing everyone up.

            1 vote
            1. ThatFanficGuy Link Parent
              WORLD: "We condemn your suppressing your citizens' right for free communication" RUSSIA: "lol shut up fagget" And what can you say to that? It's a country that's known to assassinate its political...

              WORLD: "We condemn your suppressing your citizens' right for free communication"

              RUSSIA: "lol shut up fagget"

              And what can you say to that? It's a country that's known to assassinate its political enemies abroad. Russia rigs foreign elections, annexes sovereign land, and has been against minorities for two decades at least.

              Democracy? Pff. Natural rights? Not on my wastefully-unused soil!

              What can you do about a country that doesn't play by the rules? that doesn't support the same social values – like equality, and citizens' well-being, and solid infrastructure, and keeping people healthy and educated?

              There can be no outrage. If there could be, Crimea would still belong to Ukraine. Sanctions sucked, but mostly for people like me, and maybe like my parents. The rich are still filthy-rich. Those in power are still in power – even if they have to blatantly rig elections to stay there.

              What do you say to a country that doesn't play by the same rules? The whole system of national sovereignty rests on the idea that all countries act within the confines of the same basic ideas. No taking others' land, or people, or resources without permission. No using illegal weaponry. No espionage; well, maybe a little, but so long as it's mutual. When one of the countries – one big enough to throw their weight around – stops abiding, what can you do?

              Assuming that nobody wants a fight – something Russia knows very clearly.

              2 votes
    2. TheInvaderZim Link Parent
      It says in the article that there are protests going on. The ugly truth, however, is that slactivism (which is what the new generation of activism is built on) doesnt actually do anything. The...

      It says in the article that there are protests going on.

      The ugly truth, however, is that slactivism (which is what the new generation of activism is built on) doesnt actually do anything. The reason that protest worked is because it accompanied the promise of revolution and the problems that come with it. Do you think Putin is afraid of an uprising? No? Then nothing will happen. The same thing is happening in the US, but slower - fortunately, in this case, we have a much more paranoid populace and a much stronger foundation of government to erode.

      I cant speak for russia, but for the chinese, its a simple matter of life being too confortable. So they censor the internet. So what? Theyre not holding people to gunpoint in factories, or in fields. China has a higher degree of personal comfort now than any other time in history. Who's going to want to stir the pot in a climate like that, costing those comforts and sacrificing millions of lives in the process?

      And why would anyone else care? The American people have got their own problems to deal with that they can already hardly muster the effort to give a shit about. And if I was a mover & shaker - a self-made millionaire, or happened to be in power - well, I got there on my own, whats stopping everyone else?

      There's a lot of totally irrational bullshit in this thread. Here is the simplified, undeniable truth: there is no outrage because things are still relatively good. They can still get worse, and they will, before they start to get better.

      8 votes
    3. [2]
      ainar-g Link Parent
      You're forgetting that for a lot of the population, “the internet” means Facebook, VK, and OK. Those are (suspiciously?) almost never hurt by the actions of RosKomNadzor. The Telegram thing was...

      You're forgetting that for a lot of the population, “the internet” means Facebook, VK, and OK. Those are (suspiciously?) almost never hurt by the actions of RosKomNadzor. The Telegram thing was the closest they've got to angering a lot of people.

      7 votes
      1. ThatFanficGuy Link Parent
        For y'all not from around CIS: "VK" is VKontakte, the Russian copycat of Facebook, while "OK" is Odnoklassniki, a social network for people 35+ years old.

        For y'all not from around CIS: "VK" is VKontakte, the Russian copycat of Facebook, while "OK" is Odnoklassniki, a social network for people 35+ years old.

        3 votes
  4. firstname Link
    I often feel like we are loosing grip on what the internet actually is for the human race as a whole and its evolution. I firmly believe its the biggest thing/invention ever, sure, it would not...

    I often feel like we are loosing grip on what the internet actually is for the human race as a whole and its evolution. I firmly believe its the biggest thing/invention ever, sure, it would not had been possible without the invention of electricity and so forth. But the internet touches on how we as a species evolve and has been doing so for millions of years.
    The only thing that really differ us from other animals is our large brain. We are able to store large amount of information, learn from our mistakes and plan forward. And then we pass on this information to our kids and the next generation around the village fire. When we started collecting information on stone walls, on paper, we extended our brains ability to store information and evolve faster and further then before. I see the internet as an extension of this, of our brain, a huge neural network for transporting information, much like an extension of our brains, but now interconnected between us.
    Its sad how we keep limiting ourselves in so many ways in the hunt for power, it always falls back on the same questions we have been debating through philosophy and religion really. Where greed is one of them.
    In the big picture its saddening for us all.

    3 votes