Russia issues its own TLS certificates to get past global sanctions

11 Mar 2022

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Russia is offering these certificates to replace foreign security certs that sites are unable to renew as a result of sanctions.

Russia has set up its own Transport Layer Security (TLS) certificate authority to help Russians bypass website access issues arising from global sanctions imposed on the country.

TLS is a cryptographic protocol that provides security for data sent between applications over the internet. A TLS certificate helps a web browser confirm that a domain is a verified entity and that there is encryption between the user and the server.

Future Human

A notice on Russia’s public service portal, Gosuslugi, says that it is offering these certificates to replace foreign security certs if they expire or are revoked.

Following the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has been hit with sanctions and restrictions from many countries around the world along with organisations in the tech space.

As a result of sanctions, signing authorities in many countries will no longer be able to accept payments from Russia, according to BleepingComputer, which could leave sites in the country unable to renew their certificates.

Once certificates expire, many browsers such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox display warnings that the pages are not secure, which can drive users away from the site.

While a domestic entity issuing TLS certificates could be a potential solution to this problem, it is unclear which browsers will accept these certificates.

Russia suffered a hit to its online traffic earlier this week, as US company Cogent Communications – reportedly the second largest internet carrier out of Russia – terminated services for clients in the country. Internet service provider Lumen also made the decision to cut off its connection due to “increased security risk inside Russia”.

It is expected that Russia is planning limit its reliance on the global internet very soon. According to Kremlin documents, it is planning to disconnect from the global internet from today (11 March), Vice reported.

Ukraine cyberattacks

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was launched on multiple fronts including the digital world, as the country was hit by a massive cyberattack a month prior to the invasion, with the Ukrainian government suggesting its neighbour was behind the incident.

Cyberattacks on Ukraine have continued since then and Ukrainian internet service provider Triolan told Forbes that it has been hacked twice in recent months.

One source within the provider told Forbes that some of Triolan’s internal computers stopped working because the attackers managed to reset some devices back to factory settings. As a result of the attack, there are reports of internet outages occurring in parts of Ukraine.

According to cybersecurity group NetBlocks, Triolan was hacked on 24 February when the invasion began and again on 9 March.

In the days leading up to the invasion, there were reports of multiple cyberattacks hitting Ukrainian computers and websites, likely a form of hybrid warfare by Russia.

There has been a reported 25pc spike in cyberattacks around the world over the last two weeks, with Ukraine bearing the brunt of this activity. Cybersecurity companies are offering their services to US critical infrastructure organisations for free in anticipation of a potential Russian cyberattack.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com