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Another blocked website

This is a rough outline of Internet censorship in Russia, which is covered better in Wikipedia (though some bits seem to be missing there), but here is my personal log: major events, the things I've heard of (usually not from news, which are always messed up and scary, so I'm avoiding those) or noticed directly, so not including censorship of actual terrorists (apart from a few distinct occasions on which they've blocked themselves, perhaps), if there were any; mostly technical and general-purpose services. Mass surveillance events are also included, and perhaps occasionally some other IT-related harmful ones.

1 Chronology

1.1 1995

  • (law) SORM was introduced, even before widespread internet access. ISPs are obliged to set it.

1.2 2008

  • RKN ("Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media") is formed.

1.3 2010

  • By this time data centre raids with hardware confiscation, domain seizures, and apparently more general kinds of semi-legal bullying (e.g., protection racket) are practised, as summarised in "9,5 правил ведения безопасного IT-бизнеса в России" (in Russian). Hard to estimate how common it is: some would say that every enterprise gets to deal with it, some – that no law-abiding one does.
  • (law) Russian Cinematographers' Union temporarily gets profits from a 1% tax on imported storage devices (including all kinds of computers and phones; source, in Russian). As of 2018, one easily stumbles upon blocked news websites when tries to look it up.

1.4 2012

  • (law) Blacklist creation, ISPs are obliged to block websites from it. The blacklist is supposed to restrict children from accessing information, particularly related to LGBT rights, right to die, and recreational drug use.
  • "It'll only be used against kids", "you guys are paranoid", all that.
  • Russian Wikipedia protests with a one-day blackout.
  • Some people hope that too much of the budget will be stolen to implement it, as they do with the following laws listed here, but usually it's the ISPs that have to buy and set everything, and are responsible.
  • The Librusec library was among the first ones to get blocked.
  • (law) The "foreign agent" law, which apparently restricted the Russian Wikipedia funding.

1.5 2013

1.6 2014

  • "See, it's only used to fight absolute evil."
  • GitHub got temporarily blocked after somebody uploads a humorous text mentioning suicide. Unblocked after hiding that text from users with Russian IP addresses. GitHub is blamed by RKN for all the disruptions. Some reupload the content, and urge GitHub to leave it there: apparently hoping that the more people will get screwed by the blocks, the sooner they'll cancel blocking in general.
  • Internet Archive got blocked, since it archived something that was blocked.
  • Listings of blocked websites got blocked.
  • (law) Passports (or other forms of identification) are now required to use public Wi-Fi.
  • (law) Now it's illegal to sell SIM cards freely, passport checks are required.
  • (law) SORM-2 is required to be installed in networks of larger services (social networks and such, not just ISPs), SORM-3 appears.

1.7 2015

  • Wikipedia got temporarily blocked again, for another cannabis-related article (invoking Streisand effect). And unblocked after editing the article, again.
  • Internet Archive was unblocked and blocked again, apparently (it got hard to follow, I've switched to Tor to access it by that time).
  • Reddit was temporarily blocked, because of some post about drugs.
  • Some Bitcoin-related websites, cults alternative to official ones, and a bunch of others got blocked (some temporarily, some permanently).
  • (law) Personal information of Russian citizens is required to be physically kept in Russia.

1.8 2016

  • About this time weird plans to switch all government organisations to "Russian software" are announced, which turns out to be mostly rebranded FLOSS (as the standards – bastardised and localised regular standards), though still including MS Windows.
  • (law) The Yarovaya law was passed obliging ISPs (and other kinds of communication services that transmit data) to store all the transmitted data for up to 6 months since July of 2018.
  • ISPs complain that the Yarovaya law is too crazy and unattainable.
  • 100,000 signatures were collected to petition for cancelling the Yarovaya law (one of the few petitions to collect that much), with a response that can be summarised as "nah". As a side note, the petitioning process is not anonymous, so all it achieved was a list of unhappy citizens.
  • michaelochurch.wordpress.com and hardsci.wordpress.com were blocked; apparently some chunk of Wordpress addresses, not those specific blogs.
  • LinkedIn got blocked.
  • Some CloudFlare addresses got blocked (which is particularly annoying, since CloudFlare is rather hostile to Tor).
  • Rutracker.org (a large torrent tracker) got blocked after trying to cooperate (to respect DMCA notices), for copyright infringement. It didn't try to cooperate after that.
  • Some large(st?) adult websites got blocked.
  • A couple of major ISPs in Moscow provided very poor service around this time; not sure if related to the blocking requirements they had to fulfil, but that was a major annoyance – including unavailability of personal servers, Haskell.org, finding myself in RATS-Dyna. Attempts to report abuse, make inquiries, and otherwise get use of the bureaucratic ISP tech support (which never worked; once it temporarily helped to write to their NOC directly though). Accessing even non-blocked websites over Tor seemed to be more reliable at some point.

1.9 2017

  • ISPs still complain that the Yarovaya law is too crazy and unattainable.
  • (law) Anonymization (apparently covering any proxying/tunneling/relaying) and end-to-end encryption without FSB backdoors get banned (voted in favour by Duma members unanimously, with claims along the lines of "it'll only be used to protect kids from terrorists" again), though not enforced at once.
  • Since ISPs are obliged to store a lot of traffic (see Yarovaya law above), there are news that some of them limit the traffic per month on unlimited plans.
  • Zello got blocked, since they didn't set backdoors for FSB in their system.
  • News websites have to avoid news about suicides or get blocked.
  • A maths teacher who hosted a Tor exit node gets arrested (accused of leaving some forum comment, which is classified as terrorism propaganda or something). But it's not very surprising (and wasn't wise of him), since for a while it is known that they investigate as far as they can, and then grab whoever is at that point (e.g., to whom an IP address is assigned; even less sophisticated proxies are dangerous to host).

1.10 2018

  • A system is set to cut Russia off the Internet quickly when they'll want to.
  • Some Google addresses got blocked, since Google hosted some Zello data. Then Zello application itself was also blocked, apparently (I didn't quite follow that story).
  • Attempts to block Telegram (after those refuse to hand access to FSB; I've noticed this story by accident, actually, but seems like it's the first with that scale of blocking):
    • Apparently RKN threatened to block Telegram in 2017.
    • Blocking of about 18 million addresses (whole subnets: Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Digital Ocean) and counting.
    • Many other services got blocked as collateral damage, including Viber, some online games, Netflix, Docker repositories, RKN's own monitoring system.
    • Many workflows got disrupted, including those of other government services, offline network stores, and all kinds of regular companies.
    • Telegram and the hosters are blamed by RKN for that.
    • Telegram promotes VPNs and proxies, some part of those also gets blocked.
    • RKN website is temporarily down.
    • RKN claims that nothing of importance was blocked.
    • Multiple petitions addressed to RKN and asking to stop it get signed by tens of thousands of people, but those don't seem likely to affect anything.
    • RKN threatens to block Facebook and more VPNs.
    • At first there's speculation, and then news referencing internal FSB correspondence, that Telegram gets blocked/bullied because of its plans to introduce a new cryptocurrency.
  • North Korea gets explicitly mentioned as a good example by officials (though maybe they did it earlier as well; I've only heard pejorative mentions before). Similar story with China and their Great Firewall.
  • Attempts to set a facial recognition system in Moscow Metro, once again there's little hope that it won't be abused.
  • ISPs complain that there's not enough of "certified" hardware on the market to store the traffic according to the Yarovaya law, after the exact storage time gets roughly defined (to aim the maximum mentioned above, of 6 months).

2 Other notes

2.1 Mode of operation

Mostly DPI is used (paid for by ISP customers, as well as data storage, while the organisation and monitoring/surveillance systems seem to be mostly paid from taxes), though the blocking looks different and changes. When in doubt whether there's a network issue or a block, the Starlink's checker is handy (while the official checker is not quite usable), and there's more links in the "Massive IP blockings in Russia" message.

When a sizeable amount of people is unhappy about some large and fine website or service getting blocked, RKN consistently blames the service itself (or the related ones, or whatever; never admitting to be imperfect). Though taking into account their multiple self-blocks, it indeed acts like a large mad beast, which is hard to blame for its actions.

2.2 Reactions

It's hard to estimate, but apparently in 2018, as in 2012, most people don't care about (or even do support) all that, so it'll probably keep getting worse.

The news covering those laws and incidents are usually on main pages of local IT news websites (which I mostly check when those happen), but general news websites only cover those briefly, among buzzfeed-style trashy stories.

Those who aren't happy with it tend to blame one or more of:

  • ISPs and their engineers, for following such orders, and for immediate blocking (considering those actions unconstitutional/illegal).
  • RKN, for ordering ISPs to block (either implying that the whole thing is unconstitutional, or that the methods are inappropriate).
  • Putin/government, for supposedly ordering RKN to block individual major services (see Telegram above, for instance) and/or for setting a system like that.
  • Government, for harmful laws.
  • People, for electing that government.
  • Courts, in case if those are involved.
  • The companies that don't comply (in case of blocking), as RKN officials suggest to do.

That is, pretty much every involved party (apart from LE agencies, though maybe just didn't notice that, and they are not always and/or directly involved).