Internet disruption in Kazakhstan could be a warning to Ukraine

When Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, fell into chaos last month because of soaring energy costs and anger with the government, the country’s leaders took a drastic step to quell it. protests: They block the internet.

First, they tried to ban access to certain news sites, social networks and messaging services. Then, when activists crossed those curbs with software that concealed their locations, authorities closed most connections in the country.

These moves have added uncertainty to an already dire situation. After payment apps and point-of-sale machines used to swipe debit cards shut down, long lines formed at ATMs as Kazakhs rushed to get cash. The family is unable to contact loved ones. Taxi drivers using ride-sharing apps said they stopped driving because they couldn’t connect with passengers.

Darkhan Sharipov, 32, an accountant who joined the protest, said: “It is impossible to contact. “The lack of information multiplies chaos and misinformation.”

Footage in Kazakhstan provides a preview of what could be going on in Ukraine, where the internet could be one of the Russian military’s first targets in a potential conflict. Ukrainian and Western officials have warned that cyber-harassment could be part of any Russian incursion.

This week, the Ukrainian government said the websites of two banks, the Ministry of Defense and their armed forces were briefly disrupted by a series of denial-of-service attacks, in which a large number of Massive traffic overwhelms a network. Ukrainian officials said the attacks were the largest in the country’s history and “carried the traces of foreign intelligence agencies”.

On Thursday, some mobile networks in eastern Ukraine near the Russian border were reported to be out of service.

“In the event of a real military conflict, the internet infrastructure would be destroyed in the first place,” said Mikhail Klimarev, a Russian telecommunications expert and executive director of the Association for the Defense of the Internet, a group civil society opposes the internet, said. censorship. “In Kazakhstan, the Internet was turned off by order of the authorities,” he said. “In Ukraine, we fear that the Internet will be disabled by shelling.”

Internet control is increasingly part of any modern conflict. Aware that the web is vital to communications, the economy, and propaganda, authorities are increasingly using shutdowns to stave off dissent and stay in power, much like the hold energy, water or supply lines hostage.

According to the latest annual report from Access Now, an international nonprofit group that oversees these events, in 2020 there were at least 155 internet outages in 29 countries. Between January and May 2021, at least 50 outages were recorded in 21 countries.

That includes in Yemen, where Saudi-led forces have targeted the country’s telecommunications and internet infrastructure in the ongoing war there, according to Access Now. In November, Sudan’s leaders shut down the internet for nearly a month in response to the protests. And in Burkina Faso, the government ordered telecommunications companies to shut down mobile internet for more than a week in November, citing national security concerns.

“The only way to be sure no one is online is to unplug everything,” said Doug Madory, director of internet analytics at Kentik, a telecommunications services company.

In Ukraine, any internet shutdown would have to be done by an outside force, unlike in Kazakhstan, where the government uses national security laws to force companies to cut connections.

Completely dismantling Ukraine’s Internet would be complicated. The country has more than 2,000 internet service providers, all of which need to be blocked for a complete shutdown.

Max Tulyev, owner of NetAssist, a small internet service provider in Ukraine, says his company is prepared. To stay afloat during times of conflict, he said, NetAssist has established links with other internet operators and tries to route connections around common locations that could be attractive military target. It has also set up a backup network hub and purchased satellite phones so employees can be contacted should the network fail.

Tulyev, a member of the Ukraine Internet Association, said: “Since Ukraine is so well integrated into the Internet, with so many different physical and logical links, it will be difficult to completely disconnect it.

However, many still expect targeted blackouts, especially in the border regions of Russia and Ukraine, if there is a war. Cyberattacks or a military attack can kill the connection.

On Thursday night, as fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine near the front line with Russian-backed separatists, cell phone service was disrupted in what authorities called “targeted sabotage.” pepper”. It was restored on Friday morning.

Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said: “The sabotage of communication facilities will continue. “All of this is part of Russia’s plan to destabilize the situation in Ukraine.”

In many countries, completely shutting down the Internet is not technically difficult. Regulators only need to order telecom companies, asking them to turn off access or risk losing their licenses.

In Kazakhstan, the events of last month illustrate how internet disconnections can exacerbate an already chaotic situation. The technical roots of the outage date back to at least 2015, when the country tried compete with its neighbors, China and Russia, which have practiced internet censorship for many years. Authorities in those countries have developed methods of tracking communications and building armies of hackers and bad guys who can target opponents.

Last year, Russia slowed Twitter traffic during protests involving opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and delays have continued. China has built a police arm to arrest those who speak out online and commanded thousands of volunteers to post positive comments to cheer on government initiatives.

Kazakhstan’s authorities have been trying to develop similar technical tools for surveillance and censorship without cutting off key connections needed for its economy to function, according to civil society groups and activists.

Last month, Kazakhstan descended into chaos when anger over soaring fuel prices erupted into widespread protests, leading to a Russian-led military intervention. When the government cracked down, the protests turned violent. Dozens of anti-government protesters were killed and hundreds more injured.

To prevent protesters from communicating and sharing information, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, President of Kazakhstan, switched to a digital policy like the one in Myanmar last year, which was to bring the entire Internet into the regime. offline degree. In Myanmar, the military staged a coup and soldiers took over data centers operated by the country’s telecommunications companies.

In Myanmar and Kazakhstan, the lack of Internet added to the confusion. Mr. Klimarev said that in the event of a conflict in Ukraine, that added confusion would be part of the problem.

“Destroy the enemy’s internet, and it will become disorganized,” he said. “Banks, supply and logistics systems, transport and navigation will be shut down.”

Arsen Aubakirov, a digital rights expert in Kazakhstan, said that in Kazakhstan, internet outages began on January 2 and lasted until January 10.

On January 5, internet watchers said the country went almost completely offline, adversely affecting the country’s economy, including pretty big crypto activity.

The Department of Digital Development, Innovation and Aerospace Industries has ordered telecom operators to block access, citing legislation that allows the government to suspend communications networks and services in the interest of “ensure against terrorism and public safety”.

While activists have found a number of ways to break the blocksMr. Sharipov, who has been detained by authorities for protesting, said the lack of internet left many protesters unaware of when the government would impose a new curfew, leading to violent clashes with police. While the internet was down, state media labeled the protesters as “terrorists” and drug users.

“This is yet another example of a country in turmoil choosing to shut down the internet to buy them for a few hours without public or international scrutiny,” Mr. Madory said. Internet disruption in Kazakhstan could be a warning to Ukraine

Fry Electronics Team

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