The Russian government wants to build its own internet. It plans to create an alternative to the Domain Name System, or DNS, which is the directory that allows internet-enabled devices to find and connect to websites. The expressed goal is to help guard against a “global internet malfunction,” but the Russian Security Council has raised concerns about the capabilities of Western powers to conduct cyberespionage and cyberwarfare. Given Russia plans to built this “alternet” for the so-called BRICS nations, Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, it is likely part of a strategy to perpetuate the Cold War divide, which was reignited by the Ukraine Crisis, and position Russia as a major global power.
In other words, Russia views the internet as a tool that empowers its Cold War rival, the United States. By seeking to reengineer the way the internet is accessed, Moscow hopes to enjoy the same perceived power. The Russian government also likely hopes to augment its massive propaganda machine by giving itself ultimate control over what information the Russian People and non-Western Peoples of the world can access. Instead of building an internet to enlighten and empower the Peoples of the world, Russia seeks to build an alternet capable of blinding the world’s population from Western knowledge and thought, which is a very appealing prospect for authoritarian governments like those of China and Iraq.
Ironically, the internet exists precisely to help the Peoples of the world transcend the information barriers erected by governments, powerful corporation, and affluent individuals. In recent years, the sheer volume of low-value information and circulated misinformation has undermined the ability of internet users to find and utilize the useful information available to them via the internet. Meanwhile, special internet lobbying against “net neutrality rules,” as well as the rogue surveillance and hacking activities of Western national security apparatuses, threatens to poison the World Wide Web. The internet and the technical minds behind it have, however, continuously sought to move beyond centralized government control.
Russia’s efforts to create an alternet is a brazen example of a government trying to seize control of the globe’s cyber infrastructure. It is precisely the opposite of what the world needs or want. Today, cryptocurrencies enjoy massive popularity, despite the fundamental flaws of their concept, because the people supporting them want to decentralize control of the economy and break the power of highly influential governments, such as the US government. Russia’s effort to create an alternet is an example of government trying to transfer control, or at least perceived control, over the internet from one government to another. It is an effort to concentrate power into the hands of Russian officials by stoking fears of Western invasion.
Moreover, Russia’s attempt to create an alternet will likely falter due to a number of technical hurdles or suffer years to decades worth of delays as Russia struggles to propagate products that utilize its DNS alternative. Even if successful, the simple truth is that it would offer adopters no actual security benefits from powerful actors. Well-funded and well-equipped Western national security agencies would simply use the Russian alternative to attack rival adopters. While there are concerns that Russia’s adoption of a DNS alternative would help immunize adopters from a global disruption and encourage such an attack, Russia’s attempts to isolate its internet would make it a far more tempting target by removing the risk of collateral damage. If the concern is the ability of the Westerners to hack Russian systems, concentrating power into the hand of Russian officials is the worst solution. Like cryptocurrencies, the most effective solution is one that seeks to prevent government control of cyber infrastructure.
Read old posts