Russia ups the ante against encrypted messaging app Telegram.
Russia’s communications regulator Roskomnadzor said on Tuesday (17 April) that it had blocked more than 15m IP addresses belonging to Amazon and Google, claiming they were being used by the recently banned Telegram messaging service.
On Monday (16 April), Russia banned the app as Telegram’s founder, Pavel Durov, refused to hand over encryption keys when the government demanded he do so.
The service has close to 10m users in Russia, including many within the Kremlin, who use it to communicate with both national and international media organisations. The ICQ chat service owned by Mail.ru is now being recommended by the Kremlin.
Durov claimed the move would actually cause more damage to Russia’s security infrastructure, as people would look at other encrypted messaging services from other countries, such as WhatsApp.
Head of Roskomnadzor, Alexander Zharov, was quoted by news agency Interfax as saying: “We have currently informed both companies [Amazon and Google] that a significant number of IP addresses located in the clouds of these two services have fallen under the block on the basis of the court ruling (to block Telegram).”
Telegram users relying on VPNs
Russian users now cannot access Telegram, as well as other services that route content through the proprietary servers of Amazon and Google. Some users are using VPNs to circumvent the issue, which many people point to as the reason for the clampdown on IP addresses in recent days.
Durov called for “digital resistance” to the clampdown by the Russian regulator and also thanked Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon for not taking part in “political censorship”.
According to The Guardian, several Kremlin officials had continued to sign into Telegram on Tuesday, days after the service was blocked over allegations of terrorist links.
Edward Snowden came out in support of Durov, saying that despite his criticism of Telegram’s security model in the past, the CEO’s response to the Russian government’s “totalitarian demand for backdoor access to private communications – refusal and resistance – is the only moral response, and shows real leadership”.
I have criticized @telegram's security model in the past, but @Durov's response to the Russian government's totalitarian demand for backdoor access to private communications—refusal and resistance—is the only moral response, and shows real leadership. https://t.co/KtZDpu33wh
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) April 17, 2018
“Despite the ban, we haven’t seen a significant drop in user engagement so far, since Russians tend to bypass the ban with VPNs and proxies,” Durov said.
Other tech firms in Russia’s sights
According to The Moscow Times, Russian regulators also have their eyes on larger tech firms such as Facebook.
“They’re already way behind,” Zharov warned, speaking to the pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia Daily.
Facebook has been in the Roskomnadzor’s crosshairs since last year for failing to comply with a 2015 law requiring tech firms to store Russian citizens’ personal data on local servers.