Right now, a full-scale digital war is being set off in Russia which, in some way or other, affects millions of Internet users. We are witnessing the first precedent when government, possessing all the imaginable resources, has been unable to ban the particular resource on its territory.
The news resemble that of a military conflict, the participants are using a great number of military terminology, both sides are generously spending millions whereas ordinary businesses are suffering terrible losses.
In that article I will provide with the summary of the events preceding the conflict along with the description of the events happening at the moment of the article writing.
2016 — Setting the Stage
The Parliament of the Russian Federation passed a package of anti-terrorist laws according to which all Internet providers must store the entire transmitted data for quite a long time and to share the data required for deciphering the entire traffic with the Federal Security Service of Russia (FSB) upon their request.
Pavel Durov made a statement according to which he would not capitulate to that law demand and would under no circumstances provide any third party with the data.
2017 — First Conflict
The Head of the Federal Supervision Agency for Information Technologies, Communications and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor), Aleksandr Zharov complained that Pavel Durov, the founder of Telegram, had ignored all his attempts to contact him to discuss potential messenger banning in Russia.
Roskomnadzor along with the First Channel (a government run TV channel) proclaimed Telegram to have been a messenger for terrorists and criticized its founders severely for their unwillingness to provide FSB with the encryption keys.
Pavel Durov, in his turn, accused the Roskomnadzor officials of failing to understand the mechanism of data encryption. The Telegram users rather than the messenger founders possess the encryption keys and, therefore, the keys cannot be handed over by any means.
It was announced that on July, 14 FSB sent a request to Telegram to hand them over the encryption keys. Mr. Durov was given five days to do that although the request was delivered only on July, 21.
Telegram refused to cooperate with FSB. The messenger was 800,000 roubles ($15,000) fined. Although Roskomnadzor had a right to start the messenger banning procedure for the second failure to comply with requirements within 15 days they made a decision to put it off.
2018 — Beginning of War
Roskomnadzor officially warned Telegram in terms of their breach of law and potential banning of the messenger in 15 days.
Mr. Pavel Durov replied saying that:
Threats to ban Telegram in case they fail to provide with the users’ personal data are useless. Telegram keep on standing firm in protection of freedom and confidentiality.
Roskomnadzor began an enforcement action against Telegram in Russia.
April 13 — Black Friday
The court made a decision to ban Telegram.
The Head of Roskomnadzor Mr. Aleksandr Zharov in his interview was asked when Telegram would be banned. He compared the process of the messenger banning with a military action.
Just imagine a war is in full swing and you suddenly ask: ”When will you launch an attack?”, well, in the near future, I guess. But I will not reveal the exact time anyway.
Roskomnadzor had launched the Telegram banning process in Russia that morning. On the same day the messenger founders managed to avoid banning by constant changing IP addresses which enabled them to keep on working without using proxy servers and VPN services.
Roskomnadzor had learned about it and they had to make efforts on calculating of IP addresses pool used by Telegram and to issue a black list of new ones with the following forwarding it to the Internet providers and operators.
Starting from the second half of the day Roskomnadzor had started massive banning of Amazon and Google IP addresses. Both companies are hosting providers and an IP address is assigned to any website or Internet project hosted by their servers. At the same time Roskomnadzor entered the entire subnetworks rather than specific addresses to the list of prohibited websites. The line of 126.96.36.199/15 in the list means more than 130,000 ‘neighboring’ IP addresses have been banned as well.
By the night the number of banned IP addresses had exceeded one million. Roskomnadzor ordered the Internet providers to ban several subnetworks of Amazon (more than 800,000 addresses in total) and one Google subnetwork (more than one million IP addresses).
Simply compare it with Roskomsvoboda activity which task is to monitor the list of prohibited websites. Before the notorious events their list included about 100,000 IP addresses. They had collected them for five and half years of the list existence.
Amazon IP addresses banned by Roskomnadzor were used by thousands of web sites as well as by different organizations including stores and banks. Their ban immediately resulted in disruption of many services operation.
Thousands of Internet resources had experienced failures in operation. The list included Microsoft Services, Fortnite and Playerunknown’s Battleground game, Google Photo and Google Shield, Evernote, Twitter, PlayStation Network, Viber, social networks Odnoklassniki and Vkontakte, Spotify and Twitch streaming services, along with cloud storage services. Alfa Bank and Sberbank ATMs temporary got out of order.
Mr. Durov also announced that he was going to invest several million dollars of his own funds to support the tools which would help to bypass the ban.
Within the framework of Digital Resistance, decentralized movement to support digital freedom and progress, I have started paying bitcoin grants to proxy and VPN administrators. I will willingly donate millions of dollars of my own funds to support the movement during the year.
Edward Snowden, former CIA and the National Security Agency employee, supported Pavel Durov:
Representatives of about 50 companies applied for legal help to the lawyers of Inter-regional Association of Human Rights Organization Agora which cooperate with Telegram due to massive ban of IP addresses.
Lawyer Mr. Damir Gainutdinov informed that hundreds of online store owners, delivery services, proxy services, online services and stores had applied for help.
All of them have the same question. We have been suddenly banned. What shall we do?
Mr. Pavel Durov, the founder of Telegram, urged the Russian citizens to fight for freedom making the following post in his Instagram account:
Within the last two days, Russia blocked over 15 million IP addresses in its attempts to ban Telegram on its territory. Regardless, Telegram remained available for the majority of Russia’s residents. We shall continue to defend privacy and freedom of speech of our fellow Russians.
The Head of Roskomnadzor Mr. Aleksandr Zharov said the following about the services failure due to attempts of banning Telegram in Russia:
This information does not correspond to the reality. Seriously and technically speaking, in 99.9% of cases we have reached the target of Telegram banning.
We do not intend to ban the entire Internet, we are acting rather smart and our technical experts study this or that subnetwork to find out which resources they have. Generally speaking, Telegram administration bear full responsibility as they deliberately hide themselves behind IP addresses of third companies thus setting them up a lot.
The Press Secretary for the President of Russia Mr. Dmitry Peskov made an official statement urging to wait.
It is clear that some time is required to execute the law. It should be also agreed and understood that it [Telegram banning] is not a matter of one day. Let us wait for a while.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) urged Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Apple to respect for human rights allowing Telegram changing IP addresses without limitation from their side.
By the time of the article writing the Federal Supervision Agency have banned several tens of million IP addresses belonging to Amazon and Google.
Result of the week
The amount of downloading of the messenger for Android has doubled. Telegram’s website traffic, where one can download the messenger web-based version from, has been increased by a third. According to the research made by RBK news channel neither officials nor deputies and senators who passed the banning law have stopped using Telegram. In their case like in case of many other users, the messenger keeps on working even without VPN or any additional actions taking.
Meanwhile Roskomnadzor made a statement on possible Facebook social network banning. The Federal Supervision Agency shall complete Facebook checking until the end of 2018 and in case the social network fails to meet the state authorities’ requirements its banning can be considered as well.