There has been a sharp drop in Internet connectivity in a major city in southern Ukraine, occupied by the Russian military. Once the links are restored, it looks like traffic is no longer on the same paths.
This is another consequence of the war in Ukraine. In the occupied territories, Russia seems determined to isolate the population from free access to the Internet and, therefore, to Western information. In any case, this is what seems to be happening on a large scale in the city of Kherson: in late April 2022 a diversion of Internet traffic was observed in this locality.
In a tweet posted on May 1st, the NetBlocks organization, which monitors free internet access around the world on a daily basis, reported a sudden disruption in connectivity in this conurbation. It was restored a few hours later, but the path taken by Internet traffic is no longer the same as before.
” Confirmed: Measures indicate that the Internet connection of the provider Skynet (Khersontelecom) in the Russian-occupied city of Kherson in southern Ukraine has been partially restored and redirected through the Russian company Rostelecom instead of the Ukrainian infrastructure. », It is written. Rostelecom is a major Russian telecommunications operator.
Kherson is a large city in southern Ukraine, with a population of just over 280,000 before the war. Located about a hundred kilometers from the Crimea, annexed since 2014, it was one of the first large towns to fall to the Russians on March 2, 2022. Since then, the front has moved further north, to 50 km away, with fighting near Mykolaiv.
To support your comments, NetBlocks added that the tracerout routes — computer commands to follow the path of the data — indicate that the Ukrainian ISP “ now it passes through the Russian telecommunications infrastructure Miranda and Rostelecom more than through Ukraine, after the occupation of the region by Russia. “.
Risk of increased censorship in the occupied territories
This redirection of Internet traffic means that connections in the area are now subject to Russian Internet regulation, surveillance and censorship, NetBlocks warns. Probably a factor as to why they’re doing so poorly.
With this redirect, ” it is easier to censor access to independent information », points out Tanya Lokot, a researcher at the University of Dublin and a Russian-speaking network specialist. A shared story by Gissur Simonarson, CTO of Cloud Sherpa. This is a sign that Moscow wants to bring these Ukrainians to the Russian disinformation bubbles.
These maneuvers could be used by the Kremlin to reduce the local hostility of the population towards Russian forces, which are not welcomed by the population, including the most Russian-speaking regions and those closest to the Russian borders. By moving them away from Western and Ukrainian information, Moscow can expect to reduce resistance there.
This diversion of telecommunications could also increase the pressure on the population, due to the espionage of traffic that is likely to occur in the networks, especially if it is not well protected by encryption. In fact, the presence of secure HTTPS links and the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) in occupied regions are becoming critical.
Using Starlink in Kherson links seems to be an alternative solution that is difficult to implement. Because the territory is controlled by the Russians, it is necessarily very difficult, if not impossible, to access these regions safely. In addition, it is possible that any satellite dish deployed in the city will become a military target.