Moscow has set up its own certificate authority to issue TLS certificates to Russians hit by sanctions or otherwise punished for President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
A notice on the government’s Unified Public Service Portal says the certificates will be made available to Russian websites unable to renew or obtain security certificates due to Western sanctions and organizations refusing to support Russian customers. These certificates are primarily useful for providing secure HTTPS connections. Delivery of certificates is promised within five days of requests.
The portal does not say anything about which browsers will accept the certificates. This is a critical issue because if browsers do not recognize or trust the CA that issued a certificate, a secure connection is usually not possible. The register I can’t imagine mainstream browser developers will be rushing to get these Russian certificates to work in their apps.
The Russians have a local alternative. Yandex, Google’s national analogue, gained 16% local market share with its YaBrowser, well behind Stat Counter’s 55% share attributed to Google’s Chrome.
If Yandex recognizes Russia’s certificates and can quickly upgrade users and earn tens of millions more, Russia’s plans may well fly. As a bonus for Putin, it is quite easy for Kremlin spies to intercept, decrypt and spy on connections encrypted using government-issued certificates. The more websites using certificates issued by Moscow, the more Putin’s agents can discreetly monitor connections.
Russia, meanwhile, is said to be behind the recent disruptions among Ukrainian telecommunications providers. Doug Madory, director of internet analytics at network observability company Kentik, offered the following analysis:
Major outages today #Ukraine️.
Ukrtelecom (AS6849) down nationwide at 9:35 UTC (11:35 local time) for about 40 minutes.
Triolan (AS13188) has been down nationwide for over 12 hours due to a reported cyberattack. Still almost entirely offline.
— Doug Madory (@DougMadory) March 10, 2022
Forbes reported that Ukrainian ISP Triolan attributed its outages to a pair of cyberattacks on its infrastructure.
Russia also appears to need to defend itself, as entities using the name and iconography of the hacktivist collective Anonymous (i.e. EUTNAIOA) claim to have hacked into Russian telecommunications and media regulator Roskomnadzor and recovered 820 GB of data from one of its state offices.
A message describes the data as comprising 364,000 files, of which 529 GB appears to be largely emails – which EUTNAIOA says should be handled with care as the attachments contain malware – the rest being basic files of data that details legal investigations and HR issues.
The authors of the EUTNAIOA article write that they plan to release the data once they figure out how to extract it, and hope this will inform Russians about how their government censors local media.
However, these media are prohibited from disseminating information that could allow Russians to understand the heinous nature of its illegal invasion of Ukraine. Brave Russians who protested the war in public were quickly arrested, their fate unknown.
Cryptography – which Russia has rightly identified as a key issue in the economic dimension of this conflict – will also be an essential tool if the flow of information unhindered by Vladimir Putin ever resumes in Russia. ®