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Russia Claims It Has Successfully Tested An Alternative To The Internet


Russia says it has successfully tested an alternative to the global Internet. You could think of it as a national intranet, where the government can control what people see and what sites they can access. This is part of a global trend. And Rodger Baker, an analyst at the geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor, is here to talk about it.



SHAPIRO: How does a country build a parallel Internet? What are we talking about here?

BAKER: Well, it's different ways in different countries, but what it looks like the Russians are doing is basically creating a parallel address book for Russian domains that then convinces the Internet system to move traffic only between those systems that are inside Russia, and that way, be able to ease out things that are from - coming outside the country.

SHAPIRO: So would Google search results just be what Russia wants us to see and - I don't know - Amazon shopping would only have products that are endorsed by the Russian government? Is that what we're talking about?

BAKER: It looks like it may be that rather than even being able to access Google, you would end up accessing some Russian variant of Google and maybe not even being able to access some of these foreign server sites.

SHAPIRO: I know Iran has tried something similar. We often hear about what people call the Great Firewall of China. Are many other countries trying to do this sort of thing?

BAKER: We see it in several places - you know, of course, places like North Korea. Turkey has looked at it a little bit. After some of the Snowden leaks, places like Brazil looked at potentially finding ways to close off access or some of their access to outside connections as well.

SHAPIRO: What's the reason that countries, especially autocratic countries, want to do this? Is it all about restricting the flow of information?

BAKER: Well, certainly, there's an information control component to this, but there's also a basic security component, too. The Internet connects to almost everything. When the Russians did this test, one of the things they talked about is saying, this is also a way to secure the Internet of things.

SHAPIRO: So, like, wired refrigerators and home heating devices, those kinds of things.

BAKER: Yeah. And - but it's not only in people's homes. It's in industry.

SHAPIRO: So it makes cyberattacks more difficult. Is that what you're saying?

BAKER: Conceptually, this would make it more complex for foreign entities to carry out cyberattacks or cyber espionage. But certainly, the Russians are doing this more than just about protecting themselves. And the Russians have demonstrated that they use these very systems as tools of offense all the time as well. So they know that there are these risks.

SHAPIRO: In addition to all the countries you've mentioned experimenting with parallel national versions of the Internet, we have, in recent years, seen Europe go in a different direction from the United States with more strict regulations on search engines and social media. Do you see a kind of global splintering of what used to be one cohesive Internet right now?

BAKER: We've really see - there's about three different models that we've been seeing emerge. You have the United States. You have a European version. And then you have this China-Russia version. Each of them have very different definitions of the relationship between the state industry, national security and information. In the European case, they're erring very strongly on the side of personal security, and the United States has a bit of a balance between national security and law enforcement. And in Russia and China, it's very much erring on the side of just raw national security.

SHAPIRO: So what does that mean globally if the Internet starts to look different depending on which country you're in?

BAKER: Well, we see a bit of a breakdown in the connectivity of information. Take some of the things that you see, say, in the United States, where people are operating within sort of information bubbles, and then enlarge that to entire nations operating within information bubbles. So the ability to see and understand and perceive what's going on in other places becomes a little bit more complicated. But also, it starts to hit at global commerce, global trade, the movement of goods, the movement of money as well.

SHAPIRO: Rodger Baker is an analyst at the geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor.

Thanks for speaking with us about this.

BAKER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.