Why Internet Backbone Services Cogent and Lumen Cut Russia

Over the past week, however, Russia’s separation from the global internet has gone even further. Two of the world’s largest internet service providers, Lumen Technologies and Cogent Communications, said they to block Russian customers of their networks fear that their networks will be used by the Russian government for cyberattacks against the West. But a ripple effect is that it will be even harder for the country’s citizens to use the global web.
The move underscores the tension over Russia’s efforts to erect what’s called a digital iron curtain to seal its citizens off from outside information, just as China has done for years. The companies find themselves caught between helping Russians gain free access to the internet and ensuring their services aren’t used by the Russian government to spread disinformation, propaganda or worse.

The implications are enormous. Lumen and Cogent collectively manage nearly 600,000 miles of fiber optics that form the piping of the global Internet, each with operations in more than 50 countries, according to their websites.

Both companies insist that their actions were directly aimed at the Russian government and not the Russian people, and any impediment to the latter’s ability to access outside information is an unfortunate side effect.

“As a company, we strongly believe in an open and uncensored Internet,” said Dave Schaeffer, CEO of Cogent, in an interview with CNN Business. “It was a very difficult decision.”

According to Schaeffer, cutting off Russia is a preventive measure against cyberattacks that could be perpetrated through Cogent’s network by the Russian government or individuals linked to it. The Washington DC-based company has limited its action to about 25 customers who are incorporated in Russia and are directly on Russian networks, he said. This means that Russian companies that use Cogent’s network outside the country through non-Russian state entities can continue to do so.

“We felt that the downside of having the possibility that these connections could be used offensively outweighed the downside of terminating certain services,” he added.

An unprecedented decision

Lumen, headquartered in Los Angeles, cited similar reasoning for its decision, which came days after Cogent’s.

“We have decided to disconnect the network due to an increased security risk inside Russia,” Mark Molzen, director of global issues for the company, said in an email. “We have yet to experience any network disruptions, but given the increasingly uncertain environment and heightened risk of state action, we have made this decision to keep our networks safe and secure. those of our customers, as well as the continued integrity of the global Internet.”

The Digital Iron Curtain: How Russia's Internet Could Soon Start to Look a Lot Like China's

It is also an unprecedented decision in some respects. Schaeffer said Cogent previously took down certain websites and addresses at the request of governments in several countries, including Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United States, provided the requests had a legal basis.

“It’s different,” he said, describing it as the first time the company has taken a proactive step. “We don’t look inside our customers’ pipes, what they do with them is their business. In this case, we’ve finished the whole pipe.”

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