​Why Russia is planning to briefly disconnect from the internet

An upcoming experiment will test how well the nation can function on its internal internet.

​Why Russia is planning to briefly disconnect from the internet
(Photo: ALEXANDER UTKIN/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Russia hopes to find out how smoothly it could transition to a self-contained internet in the event foreign actors tried to disconnect the nation from the rest of the internet.
  • The experiment will reportedly occur before April 1.
  • Russia's attempts to bolster its local internet infrastructure come in the wake of other nations accusing it of executing cyber attacks.

Russia plans to briefly disconnect itself from global internet servers as part of an upcoming experiment designed to see how well the nation can function on its own self-contained internet.

The test is designed to provide feedback on a recently proposed law, dubbed the Digital Economy National Program, which aims to bolster the self-sufficiency of Russian internet space. Under the law, Russian internet providers would be forced to implement the technical means necessary to reroute internet traffic to local, state-approved exchange points in the event a foreign actor tries to disrupt Russia's connection to global servers, according to a report from ZDNet. The Russian government will cover the costs of the test, which will reportedly occur before April 1.

Some Russian internet providers have expressed concern over the disconnect test, citing the probability that many citizens won't be able to access crucial services. Those worries seem reasonable in light of a 2016 study, published by the Center for Technology Innovation (CTI) at Brookings, that showed how countries can lose hundreds of millions of dollars and put citizens at risk during short-term internet disconnections.

"Shutting down access to popular services or to the whole internet — even for a short period of time — undermines economic growth, puts lives in jeopardy, separates people from friends and family, and erodes confidence in the governments that take such drastic and ill-advised steps," wrote Darrell M. West, the founding director of the CTI at Brookings.

​Why Russia wants to conduct a disconnect test

Russia has for years been exploring ways to beef up its internal internet. In 2010, for example, the nation launched its own operating system to wean government computers off Microsoft products. In 2017, Russia announced plans to create its own Domain Name System — essentially the phonebook through which internet domain names are catalogued — for itself and several other nations.

It's no wonder that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who's called the internet a CIA project, wants to reduce his country's reliance on global internet infrastructure: NATO and its allies have repeatedly accused Russia of executing cyberattacks, and they've threatened retaliation if those attacks persist. Building a self-contained internet is almost surely a preemptive and cautionary move that would, at least theoretically, protect Russia in the event of serious cyber warfare.

​Russian internet censorship

Russia's plan to force ISPs to route all traffic through exchange points managed by Roskomnazor, the nation's telecom watchdog, possibly signals a desire of the Kremlin to build a censored and surveilled internet system. After all, Russia recently began requiring ISPs to store data on all users for at least six months, and it's tried to force American tech companies, such as Facebook and Google, to store data inside the nation so state officials can demand for it to be handed over.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Study helps explain why motivation to learn declines with age

Research suggests that aging affects a brain circuit critical for learning and decision-making.

Photo by Reinhart Julian on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

As people age, they often lose their motivation to learn new things or engage in everyday activities. In a study of mice, MIT neuroscientists have now identified a brain circuit that is critical for maintaining this kind of motivation.

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Why not just divide the United States in slices of equal population?

The contiguous U.S., horizontally divided into deciles (ten bands of equal population).

Image: u/curiouskip, reproduced with kind permission.
Strange Maps
  • Slicing up the country in 10 strips of equal population produces two bizarre maps.
  • Seattle is the biggest city in the emptiest longitudinal band, San Antonio rules the largest north-south slice.
  • Curiously, six cities are the 'capitals' of both their horizontal and vertical deciles.
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Surprising Science

Scientists discover why fish evolved limbs and left water

Researchers find a key clue to the evolution of bony fish and tetrapods.

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