Russian Roscomnadzor Contemplating Viber Next in its War on Encrypted Messaging Services

Posted on May 7, 2018 at 6:55 AM

Russian Roscomnadzor Contemplating Viber Next in its War on Encrypted Messaging Services

Thus far, the crackdown on Telegram has resulted in the blocking of 18 million IP addresses and 50 VPNs.

Since winning its lawsuit against messaging giant Telegram on April 13, Russian telecommunications watchdog, Roscomnadzor has been blocking IP addresses which have been bypassing ISP blocks to access Telegram. On May 3, Deputy Head of Roscomnadzor Vadim Subbotin confirmed that 50 VPNs had been blocked for aiding in this circumvention and that more blockages were likely to come. Moreover, Ministry of Communications chief Nikolai Nikiforov did not rule out Japanese-owned, Luxembourg-based Viber as a possible target in the next wave of crackdowns on encrypted messaging services.

Last month, in the name of fighting terrorism, the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (hereafter, Roscomnadzor) ruled that any entities operating encrypted messaging services needed to register with the government and hand over their encryption keys. Telegram, a free messaging platform, refused to comply. Moreover, Telegram founder Pavel Durov argued that human beings should be trusted and left free to share their thoughts privately.  

He vowed not only to fight to maintain the privacy of Telegram’s two hundred million users but to also to use built-in methods to by-pass blocks on its service. After winning its April 13 lawsuit against Telecom in Moscow’s Targansky court, Roscomnadzor aggressively began web-blocking Telegram.

As internet service providers (ISPs) worked to comply with the ban, Telegram users utilized virtual private networks (VPNs) and anonymizer services to facilitate continued access to Telegram. Soon 18 million IP addresses linked with Amazon, Google, and countless other companies were blocked as well for providing connectivity to Telegram.

Despite this effort by the government, Telegram and its facilitators have worked through disruptions and kept some level of messaging services operational. Perhaps due to the ineffectiveness of this targeted attack on Telegram, rumors have floated this week about the possibility that Roskomnadzor Chief Alexander Zharov has resigned. It is said that Zharov may have gone overboard in granting his permission to block so many IP addresses.

Despite this alleged turmoil within Roskomnadzor, other government officials are presenting a strong front in their efforts to bring encrypted messaging service providers under their control. On May 3, Deputy Head of Roscomnadzor Vadim Subbotin confirmed that 50 VPNs had been blocked in the crackdown on Telegram and that more blockages were likely to come.

Additionally, Nikolai Nikiforov of the Ministry of Communication refused to deny that Luxembourg-based messaging service Viber was among Roscomnadzor’s next targets. Roscomnadzor, Nikiforov contended, is tasked with enforcing the order to obtain encryption keys. Any messaging service which does not comply with the order and does not seek an exemption in the courts is likely to be degraded with web-blocking, as Telegram was.

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Russian Roscomnadzor Contemplating Viber Next in its War on Encrypted Messaging Services
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Russian Roscomnadzor Contemplating Viber Next in its War on Encrypted Messaging Services
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Deputy Head of Roscomnadzor Vadim Subbotin confirmed that 50 VPNs had been blocked for aiding in this circumvention and that more blockages were likely to come. Moreover, Ministry of Communications chief Nikolai Nikiforov did not rule out Japanese-owned, Luxembourg-based Viber as a possible target in the next wave of crackdowns on encrypted messaging services.
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Koddos
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