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Sunday, December 08, 2019

Cutout switch

Russia is building an internet fortress to keep out the barbarians. But some of them are inside the walls

By: Editorial | Updated: December 20, 2018 4:10:00 pm
Russia is being accused of hacking and interfereing with US Presidential election. The internet was conceived as an electronic world without borders.

The Russians are under the scanner for allegedly seeding social networks to influence the US presidential election. The Russians are also building a separate internet for the BRICs nations — with its own network of DNS servers, which are the internet’s phone books for routing traffic. For some security analysts, this is ironic, and for others, inevitable. Ever since March, when Wikileaks uploaded the Vault 7 documents detailing the surveillance and cyberwarfare capabilities of US security agencies, Russia and China have stepped up demands for more control over the internet’s DNS system. The scariest was a vulnerability in Cisco’s routers, the switches over which much of the world’s traffic runs.

Russia was not soothed when it was told that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which maintains the world’s DNS system, is a nonprofit, multi-stakeholder organisation. On the plea of cybersecurity, it has created a closed system for its military forces, and now, its security council has mandated a BRICs DNS system, which would wall off its infrastructure against attacks. But the internet is a dual use technology, and the other side of the cybersecurity argument is that a separate DNS would make it easy for Russians to hack the world without being hacked back, leaving its electronic links with political and trading partners patent.

The internet was conceived as an electronic world without borders, which would not fail so long as the last two computers in the world were online and could connect with each other. But China balkanised it with its Great Firewall, and electronic blocs and ghettoes were but a step away. When the internet is turning its face away from the extraordinary dream of one electronic world talking in real time, and becoming a force multiplier for frightening demons of the past, we cannot expect better.

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