Can the Ukrainian Internet withstand the long-term attacks and destruction of Russia? · Global Voices in French

Screenshot of Euronews YouTube channel showing people from Kyiv taking refuge in the subway while being kept informed via mobile internet.

In Ukraine, the Internet has become the main defense against the Russian invasion. Through this, the military inform the Ukrainians on the impending Russian attacks, humanitarian aid is organizedcyber vigilantes meet and the rest of the world is informed of the war. It has become the most important weapon in Ukraine, as it dominates the communication of the course of the war and resists Russian misinformation. Thanks to the Internet, Western companies like Microsoft have been able to analyze and correct vulnerabilities Ukrainian networks, creating an effective defense against cyberattacks from Moscow. Many experts wonder why Russia did not try to destroy the Internet infrastructure of Ukraine.

In 2014, Russia’s control of the Crimean Internet networks was the main cause of the success of the referendum that resulted in the annexation of the peninsula to the Russian Federation. Moscow was waiting that such a maneuver would work during the invasion of Ukraine. Since February 24, Vladimir Putin has relied on the Ukrainian Internet to organize an internal opposition movement to Volodymyr Zelensky and urge Ukrainians to take up arms against their own government. Although most Ukrainians have ignored the appeal of Russia, yes convinced some of them, because the latter help the Russian army by marking landing sites and bombing targets.

If the war drags on and Russia remains unable to control Ukrainian opinion, the option of targeting telecommunications infrastructure would be an option. For the time being, most of the Russian military maneuvers have been directed at the urban Ethernet centers of Ukraine. In anticipation, companies and governments around the world have helped strengthen Ukraine’s communication networks. U.S. business tycoon Elon Musk donated an unknown number of Starlink satellite communications systems in case the Internet did not malfunction. European telecommunications operators offered free services to Ukrainians. Although kind and helpful, these gestures will prove futile if Russia decides to attack fiber optics and submarine cables.

The state of the Internet infrastructure of Ukraine

Cyberspace can be understood three levels. joThe first and most essential is the physical infrastructure: the submarine fiber optic cables and the satellites that transmit the data. The second level consists of protocols that allow computers and subnets to communicate with each other: the domain name system (DNS), TCP / IP and BGP protocols. These two levels are extremely vulnerable, as there is the possibility of bombing fiber and submarine cables, hacking DNS servers, and hijacking IP traffic.

The final level consists of familiar destinations to users. Examples include government sites, Telegram and Facebook, and more. This is the most reliable level, as there is the ability to create mirror sites, remove misleading information, and restore hacked pages. Private virtual networks ( VPN ) intervene in the second level can be used to dodge third-party website restrictions.

The first level, the physical infrastructure, is the more able to influence the dynamics of military conflicts on the ground. The main role of Internet nodes isrefuge Autonomous Systems (SA), a connected set of [nœuds] Internet Protocol (IP) routing systems that control network operators and define Internet routing policy. Autonomous system control allows the operator to restrict or divert the data path. If Russia took control of Mariupol, Zaporizhia, Dnipro and Odessa, it could almost completely control the flow of Internet traffic from Ukraine.

Why did Russia not attack the Ukrainian telecommunications networks?

On February 24, the day of the Russian invasion, Ukraine faced widespread Internet disruptions. Internet service provider Triolan, which serves most of Ukraine and Kharkiv in particular, has been hit by cyberattacks on its facilities. partial breakdowns. Triolan’s DNS servers, which route device traffic to websites, were partially blocked.

Since the start of the war, Ukraine’s Internet has remained virtually intact, and disruptions remain local. When the Russian army occupied Zaporizhzhya on March 7, he went disconnected mobile networks and the Internet. Note that the city is home to the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and is one of the main telecommunications nodes in Ukraine. In response to this occupation, the International Atomic Energy Agency let it be known that “Telephone lines, e-mails and faxes were no longer working,” preventing any communication with the nuclear power plant.

Disconnecting all Internet networks from Ukraine means closing several Internet service providers in the country. This can be done by continuous cyberattacks or by direct bombardment. Lanet, a broadband ISP of Ukraine has suffered damage in the city of Sievierodonetsk when their cables were damaged in combat. Despite some attacks aimed at TV towers, the main telecommunications services of Ukraine have not yet been attacked. There are two possible reasons for this.

First, Ukraine’s telecommunications infrastructure withstands Russian attacks. Ukrainian Internet distribution is decentralized. Due to the lack of regulation in the 1990s, many independent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) establish networks across the country without real competition. More than half of Ukrainian Internet users are covered by a network which occupies less than 1% of the domestic market. Unlike most countries in the world, the Internet in Ukraine is extremely local, with few checkpoints.

In addition, since 2014 the Ukrainian telecommunications networks have experienced improvements. After the invasion of Crimea and Donbas, the cyber police department was created to enhance Ukraine’s digital capabilities. In 2016, the step to adopted the National Cybersecurity Strategy. The European Union has also invested $ 27 million to support Ukraine’s cybersecurity and strengthen its digital infrastructure.

The second reason is that Russia probably expected to use Ukraine’s Internet and mobile networks for its own communications. The U.S. military experience has proven the difficulty of establishing a communications network in an active war zone from scratch. The existing telecommunications infrastructure in Ukraine has very helped the Russian army. John Ferrari, a retired two-star general, underlined “It’s inconceivable to tear down mobile phone towers, because that means blinding the whole army.” After the phone companies blocked the network to Russian numbers, so it was adjourned that Russian soldiers were stealing Ukrainian mobile phones to communicate with their commanders.

Not attacking telecommunication networks also allows for tracking and espionage. Given the fact that Russia he imagined a dizzying victory, communication networks would have been essential for the control of Ukraine. Intact telecommunications networks also offer the possibility of collect information on civilian and military communications in Ukraine. Now that the idea of ​​a dizzying victory is virtually ruled out, it remains to be seen whether Russia will focus on disrupting Ukraine’s communications networks.

What can be done to counteract Internet outages?

In anticipation, Elon Musk’s company, Starlink, donated a few dozen satellite systems to the Ukrainian government. If it is not yet clear how they are used, the system raises many concerns. Like the indicated Musk, satellite communication is an easy target in attacks. If airspace is controlled, the user’s transmission to the satellite can be intercepted and triangulated at the signal location. In addition, satellite communication is more easy to stir and annoying. As a result, Starlink recently focused their efforts on cyber defense and signal jam prevention.

In addition, since 99% of Internet traffic passes over terrestrial cables, satellite connections play an insignificant role in a country’s telecommunications infrastructure. star link it will not be the solution for communications from Ukraine in case of total control by Russia. Although all Ukrainians had a Starlink satellite dish, the geographic range of the satellite is limited and regulators still have control over the required spectrum frequencies.


For more information on this, see our special coverage The Russian Invasion of Ukraine.

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