Russia Is Taking Over Ukraine’s Internet

Russia Is Taking Over Ukraine’s Internet
Russia Is Taking Over Ukraine’s Internet

Since the end of May, the 280,000 people living in the occupied port city and its surrounding areas have faced constant online disruptions as internet service providers are forced to reroute their connections through Russian infrastructure. Multiple Ukrainian ISPs are now forced to switch their services to Russian providers and expose their customers to the country’s vast surveillance and censorship network, according to senior Ukrainian officials and technical analysis viewed by WIRED.

The internet companies have been told to reroute connections under the watchful eye of Russian occupying forces or shut down their connections entirely, officials say. In addition, new unbranded mobile phone SIM cards using Russian numbers are being circulated in the region, further pushing people towards Russian networks. Grabbing control of the servers, cables, and cell phone towers—all classed as critical infrastructure—which allow people to freely access the web is considered one of the first steps in the “Russification” of occupied areas.

“We understand this is a gross violation of human rights,” Victor Zhora, the deputy head of Ukraine’s cybersecurity agency, known as the State Services for Special Communication and Information Protection (SSSCIP), tells WIRED. “Since all traffic will be controlled by Russian special services, it will be monitored, and Russian invaders will restrict the access to information resources that share true information.”

KHERSONTELECOM FIRST SWITCHED its internet traffic to a Russian network on April 30, before flipping back to Ukrainian connections for the majority of May. However, things appear to have shifted permanently since May 30. All of KhersonTelecom’s traffic is now being routed through Miranda Media, a Crimea-based company that’s itself connected to Russian national telecom provider Rostelecom. (Miranda Media was set up after Putin annexed Crimea in 2014). The day after KhersonTelecom made its latest switch, state-controlled Russian media outlet RIA Novosti the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia areas were officially being moved to Russian internet connections—days earlier, the outlet said the regions were also going to start using the Russian telephone code +7.

Zhora says that across occupied regions of Ukraine—including Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk, and Zaporizhzhia—there is a patchwork of around 1,200 different ISPs. “We understand that most of them are forced to connect to Russian telecom infrastructure and reroute traffic,” Zhora tells WIRED. “Unfortunately, there are cases of massive routing of traffic of Ukrainian operators across Russian channels,” says Liliia Malon, the commissioner of Ukraine’s telecom regulator, the National Commission for the State Regulation of Electronic Communications. “Ukrainian networks are partially blocked or completely disconnected.”

Since the end of May, the 280,000 people living in the occupied port city and its surrounding areas have faced constant online disruptions as internet service providers are forced to reroute their connections through Russian infrastructure. Multiple Ukrainian ISPs are now forced to switch their services to Russian providers and expose their customers to the country’s vast surveillance and censorship network, according to senior Ukrainian officials and technical analysis viewed by WIRED.

The internet companies have been told to reroute connections under the watchful eye of Russian occupying forces or shut down their connections entirely, officials say. In addition, new unbranded mobile phone SIM cards using Russian numbers are being circulated in the region, further pushing people towards Russian networks. Grabbing control of the servers, cables, and cell phone towers—all classed as critical infrastructure—which allow people to freely access the web is considered one of the first steps in the “Russification” of occupied areas.

“We understand this is a gross violation of human rights,” Victor Zhora, the deputy head of Ukraine’s cybersecurity agency, known as the State Services for Special Communication and Information Protection (SSSCIP), tells WIRED. “Since all traffic will be controlled by Russian special services, it will be monitored, and Russian invaders will restrict the access to information resources that share true information.”

Zhora says that across occupied regions of Ukraine—including Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk, and Zaporizhzhia—there is a patchwork of around 1,200 different ISPs. “We understand that most of them are forced to connect to Russian telecom infrastructure and reroute traffic,” Zhora tells WIRED. “Unfortunately, there are cases of massive routing of traffic of Ukrainian operators across Russian channels,” says Liliia Malon, the commissioner of Ukraine’s telecom regulator, the National Commission for the State Regulation of Electronic Communications. “Ukrainian networks are partially blocked or completely disconnected.”

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