In the city of Hersonisso in southern Ukraine, the loading of websites on users’ devices stopped at 14:43 on 30 May. In the next 59 minutes, Herszon Telekom could not connect to the Internet with their loved ones, keep them informed of the latest news, and upload pictures to Instagram, for example.
This was almost an hour of communication blackout. When the websites started to come to life again at 15:42, everything seemed normal. Behind the scenes, however, everything has changed: since then, Internet traffic has flowed through a Russian service provider and Putin’s unavoidable censorship machine.
Since the end of May, 280,000 people in and around the occupied port city have been facing constant online disruptions as ISPs have been forced to redirect connections to Russian infrastructure – written by a Wired.
Internet companies have been instructed to redirect connections or shut down services completely under the watchful eyes of Russian occupiers.
In addition, new, unbranded mobile phone SIM cards using Russian numbers have been launched, further diverting users to Russian networks.
One of the first steps in “Russifying” the occupied territories is to take control of servers, cable operators, and mobile towers that have allowed people free access to the Internet.
Herszon Telekom first switched its Internet traffic to a Russian network on April 30, and then returned to Ukrainian servers for most of May. From the penultimate day of May, the situation has changed forever.
Herszon Telekom’s entire traffic will henceforth be handled by the Crimean-based Miranda Media, which was established after the unbundling in 2014 and will operate with the Russian national telecommunications provider Rostelecom. is related.
A day after the switchover, the state-controlled Russian media, RIA Novostyi, also officially announcedthat the Hersonissos and Zaporizhia areas were redirected to Russian servers.
It was announced days earlier that the Russian phone number, +7, would be used in the area.
Controlling the flow of information is a powerful weapon
There are about 1,200 different ISPs in the occupied territories of Ukraine, including Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhia. Most of them are forced to connect to Russia’s telecommunications infrastructure because Ukrainian networks are partially blocked or completely disconnected.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion in February, disrupting or disabling Internet infrastructure has been a common tactic – controlling the flow of information is a powerful weapon. Russian missiles destroyed TV towers, a cyber attack against a satellite system had a major impact across Europe, and in parallel they tried to break the Ukrainian resistance with disinformation.
“It’s one thing to occupy a city and control the supply lines that lead to the city, the flow of food or fuel,” said Cloudflare’s head of data recognition. However, according to David Belson
controlling internet access and manipulating internet access in an occupied area is a new front in the conflict.
As soon as Russian forces take control of the equipment, they instruct Ukrainian personnel to reconfigure the networks for the Miranda Media connection. If local employees do so reluctantly, the Russians will do it themselves, Ukrainian acquaintances say.
Unmarked white SIM card
Russia has also controlled mobile communications. In recent weeks, a mysterious new mobile company has emerged in Hersonisso, which is unbranded, completely white cards distributes.
Not much is known about these, but the point is that they already operate with a Russian +7 number instead of +380 in Ukraine.
“Russian forces have realized they are at a disadvantage if they continue to use Ukrainian mobile networks,” explained Cathal McDaid, chief technology officer at AdaptiveMobile. The company noticed that in Donetsk and Luhansk, two mobile operators also extended the previously covered area to the newly occupied areas.
It doesn’t matter who controls the internet. Most countries partially control the websites they view, and some authoritarian countries, including China, North Korea, and Russia, severely restrict people’s access.
Russia has an extensive system of internet censorship and surveillance, and Moscow is trying to create a sovereign internet project that will separate the country from the rest of the world. Russia’s system of operational investigations, SORM, can be used to read people’s e-mails, listen to text messages, and monitor other communications.
The redirection of the Internet in the occupied Ukrainian territories serves the purpose of spreading the Kremlin’s propaganda and convincing those living there that they were let down by Ukrainian forces.
The redirection is performed by Miranda Media, which website the listed “partners” include the Russian State Security Service, known as the FSB, and the Russian Ministry of Defense.
The Russian authorities see the redirection of the Internet in Kherson and surrounding areas as a key step in legitimizing the occupation, says Olena Lennon, an assistant professor of political science and national security at the University of New Haven in Ukraine.
In parallel, Russian officials began distributing Russian passports.
A Russian bank will soon open in Hersonissos and the region has been relocated to the Moscow time zone by occupying forces.
“Russia has made it clear that it is planning for the long term,” said Olena Lennon, who said internet control was central to this.
(Cover image: A man on the balcony in Ukraine on April 17, 2022. Photo: Alex Chan Tsz Yuk / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images)