In Ukraine, the Russians are also trying to annex cyberspace

In Ukraine, the Russians are also trying to annex cyberspace


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In the war in Ukraine, the battle is also played around the internet infrastructure.

Kherson, a large city in southern Ukraine, has been under the control of the Russian army since March 3. But since April 30, another form of occupation has been added to that of Russian soldiers roaming the streets: a sudden cut in internet traffic before returning to normal the following day. In the meantime, Khersontelecom, the main Internet Service Provider (ISP) in the region, was replaced by Miranda-Media, an operator from Crimea, a territory annexed by Russia in 2014.

In Kherson, just days after reconnecting via Miranda-Media, the Ukrainian authorities announced that they had regained control of the network and that traffic was once again being managed by the original Ukrainian ISP, Khersontelecom.

This did little to discourage the occupiers. Another operator in the region, Status, was forced to route its traffic through Russia. Consequently, it has been reported that since May 13, the city has effectively been connected to the Russian network. At present, the Kherson case is the best documented: The strategy of network manipulation consists of “creating dependence” and ensuring “control of information,” according to Louis Pétiniaud, a Ph.D. in geopolitics and a researcher at the Géode center, a research and training center devoted to the strategic and geopolitical issues of cyberspace.

Other cities are expected to suffer the same fate. Spying and censorship are the main goals of internet control. For example, to curb the anti-war protests and rallies that took place in major Russian cities, Russia banned access to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter by pressuring its ISPs when the war in Ukraine began.

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It is so easy to manipulate the network, because “the protocol that allows the routing of data is not at all secure,” explained Frédérick Douzet, director of GEODE, teacher-researcher at the French Institute of Geopolitics and a specialist in geopolitical issues of cyberspace and the United States. Thus, in order to transit between users, data passes through the cables that physically link countries. Cutting a cable means significantly altering the access to the global internet of one or several states.

Beyond the question of cables, there is the question of how the machines communicate using the autonomous systems that form the network of the world wide web. These are established by their administrators, who determine “their routing policies according to economic, technical and/or political considerations,” explained Mr. Douzet. In a war, they are also established under the coercion of the enemy.

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In Ukraine, the Russians are also trying to annex cyberspace

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