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 portal says the certificates are made available to Russian websites that cannot renew or obtain security certificates as a result of Western sanctions and organizations refusing to support Russian customers. These certificates are primarily useful for providing secure HTTPS connections. The delivery of the certificates is promised within five days after request.
The portal is silent about which browsers accept the certificates. This is critical because if browsers do not recognize or trust the CA that issued a certificate, a secure connection is generally not possible. The registry I can’t imagine that any of the mainstream browser developers will rush to get these Russian certificates working in their applications.
Russians have a local alternative. Yandex, the nation’s Google analogue, has gained a 16 percent local market share with its YaBrowser — well short of the 55 percent market share Stat Counter attributes to Google’s Chrome.
If Yandex recognizes Russia’s certificates and can quickly upgrade users and win tens of millions more, Russia’s plans could just work out. As a bonus for Putin, it’s fairly easy for Kremlin spies to intercept, decrypt, and snoop on connections encrypted with government-issued certificates. The more websites that use Moscow-issued certificates, the more connections Putin’s agents can silently monitor.
Russia is now believed to be behind the recent disruptions at Ukrainian telecom providers. Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at network monitoring firm Kentik, has offered the following analysis:
Big failures today in #Ukraine️.
Ukrtelecom (AS6849) nationwide down at 9:35 UTC (11:35 local time) for ~40 minutes.
Triolan (AS13188) has been down for over 12 hours nationwide due to a reported cyber attack. Still almost completely offline.
— Doug Madory (@DougMadory) March 10, 2022
Forbes reported that Ukrainian ISP Triolan attributed its outages to two cyberattacks on its infrastructure.
Russia also appears to have some defenses, as companies using the name and iconography of the hacktivist collective Anonymous (that’s EUTNAIOA) claim to have cracked Russia’s telecommunications and media regulator Roskomnadzor and 820GB of data from one of its state offices to have stolen.
One post describes the data as comprising 364,000 files, 529GB of which appear to be mostly emails – which EUTNAIOA says need to be treated with caution as attachments contain malware – while the remainder are database files detailing legal investigations and HR matters describe.
The authors of EUTNAIOA’s post write that they plan to release the data once they figure out how to extract it, hoping this will let Russians know about how their government is censoring local media.
However, these media outlets are banned from spreading news that might make the Russians understand the heinous nature of their illegal invasion of Ukraine. The brave Russians who publicly protested against the war were quickly arrested and their fate is unknown.
Cryptography – which Russia has rightly identified as a key issue in the economic dimension of this conflict – will also be a crucial tool if the flow of information in Russia, unmolested by Vladimir Putin, ever resumes. ®