Here's what happened after Russia accidentally blocked some of the biggest social networks around
For about two hours in the early morning on Friday, Russia’s federal censor ordered Internet service providers to block a handful of IP addresses operated by the Internet giants Facebook, Twitter, Yandex, Vkontakte, and Odnoklassniki. Roskomnadzor confirmed the incident, saying it was an accident caused by “the technical features of its system.” The agency insists that the IP addresses weren’t present on its “out-load list” long enough for any ISPs to block these websites. Roskomnadzor simultaneously says “telecoms operators were not instructed to restrict access to these addresses” — a statement easily debunked by the fact that the government’s Internet blacklist very clearly (albeit briefly) listed these IP addresses.
How did Yandex respond? The company confirms that Roskomnadzor briefly blocked five of its IP addresses. In a press release, Yandex stated, “The attempt to block Telegram in Russia has unexpectedly become a blow to the entire RuNet. The block has affected not only the messenger, and many other resources and their users have also suffered. We do not consider this situation to be acceptable. The Russian market can develop only in conditions of open competition.”
The company’s public relations director also warned that the state’s efforts against Telegram endanger the Russian market’s competitiveness.
How did Vkontakte respond? Russia’s most popular social network refrained from criticizing Roskomnadzor directly, but managing director Andrey Rogozov told the website TJournal on Friday that Vkontakte will introduce end-to-end encryption on all audio and video calls through its service.
Rogozov said that popular online services have recently suffered because of “a misunderstanding of the principles of the modern Internet.” He did not say, however, if Vkontakte plans to add end-to-end encryption to its chat messages.
How did Mail.ru Group (which owns Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki) respond? On Friday, Mail.ru shared three hyperlinks to proxy servers that Telegram users can enter into their “connection type: use proxy” function on the app. In an announcement on Vkontakte, the company didn’t specify that the proxy servers are for Telegram, saying merely, “[This] is for stable access to your favorite services. Use them!” The links direct data to servers in Amsterdam owned by the Mail.ru Network Operations Center.
Critics say Mail.ru’s servers might be designed as a kind of Trojan horse, “scanning” for Telegram front-servers, which Roskomnadzor then blocks. Vladislav Zdolnikov, an IT consultant to Alexey Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, told TJournal that Russian Internet users should stick to paid VPN services and avoid Mail.ru’s proxy servers (which could be blocked very easily, if Roskomnadzor considered them a real threat).
Since April 16, Roskomnadzor has blocked nearly 18 million IP addresses in an effort to cut access to Telegram, which refuses to redesign its software to grant Russia’s Federal Security Service access to the app’s encryption keys. All messages sent over WhatsApp are end-to-end encrypted, while only Telegram's “secret chats” are end-to-end encrypted. Telegram insists that its encryption is an essential feature of its software architecture.