A major internet backbone provider has shut off its services to Russian customers out of fear of being used for “outbound cyber attacks or disinformation”.
US-based Cogent, one of the world’s largest internet providers and the second-biggest in Russia, told its customers in Russia it would be terminating its services “in light of the unwarranted and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine”, citing economic sanctions and the “increasingly uncertain security situation” making it impossible for the company to continue.
David Schaeffer, Cogent’s chief executive, told The Washington Post that while the company didn’t want to prevent Russian citizens from accessing the internet, it wanted to avoid its networks being used to deliver propaganda or cyber attacks.
“Our goal is not to hurt anyone. It’s just to not empower the Russian government to have another tool in their war chest,” he said.
While Cogent’s move will not disconnect the country from the internet entirely, it’s likely to slow as other carriers attempt to deal with the extra demand, Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at network tracker Kentik, said.
“At this point, there are no indications that other telecoms will follow Cogent’s path. However, as Russia becomes increasingly disconnected from the financial system, Russia’s communication companies may have difficulty paying foreign transit providers for service,” he added.
“A backbone carrier disconnecting its customers in a country the size of Russia is without precedent in the history of the internet and reflects the intense global reaction that the world has had over the invasion of Ukraine.”
Internet freedom advocates have warned against pulling connectivity from Russia, arguing that doing so reduces the ability of ordinary Russians to access non-Kremlin-sanction propaganda about the war.
“Without the internet, the rest of the world would not know of atrocities happening in other places,” said Andrew Sullivan, president of the Internet Society.
“And without the internet, ordinary citizens of many countries wouldn’t know what was being carried out in their name.”
Ukrainian websites have been under “non-stop” cyber attack from Russian hackers since Russia invaded the country last month, Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection said over the weekend.
“Russian hackers keep on attacking Ukrainian information resources non-stop,” it tweeted on Saturday.
“Since the beginning of [the] invasion, DDos [distributed denial of service] attacks have been primarily aimed at the resources of Verkhovna Rada, Cabinet of Ministers, President of Ukraine, Defense Ministry and Internal Affairs Ministry.
Despite the aggressors’ resources, disruption to the sites of the central government bodies has been minimal, it said, explaining that replacing the front pages of some local authorities’ pages was the extent of the damage to date.
“We will endure! On the battlefields and in the cyberspace!” it added.