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From Russia With Love - Telegram Ban

A messaging app Telegram, founded by a Russian, was blocked by Russian authorities over its non-compliance with the government security measures.

No, we are not launching a new James Bond movie. We are talking about the messaging app Telegram, founded by a Russian, which was ironically blocked by Russian authorities over its non-compliance with the government security measures.

The internet superhighway is not without roadblocks. Censorship has always been a hot topic in cyberspace with multiple countries trying to exert some degree of control over the digital data accessed and shared by its netizens. Most countries implement internet censorship judiciously, mainly as a measure to tighten domestic security but unfortunately, it has also become the weapon of choice, so to speak, among repressive governments and has been widely used to curb freedom of expression.

China is an excellent case study in internet censorship. The Chinese government has managed to control every aspect of social media which has forced the big players in the social media spectrum to comply with the government policies to conduct business in China. Turkey is another country that has been in the news for its stringent censorship laws to ensure security and stability in the country. This naturally triggered a wave of outrage and resistance among its citizens.

Russia has joined the long list of countries brandishing internet censorship as a security need. The government demanded that Telegram share the app’s encryption keys as part of its security strategy. But Telegram refused to comply citing the company’s USP – “100% privacy”. As a result, since April 16 2018, Russia banned Telegram services and ISPs were forced to block the app leaving its 13 million Telegram users worried.

Performance of Google and AWS April 2018

Telegram responded to the ban by moving its services to third-party cloud providers to maintain some level of availability and thus making it difficult for authorities to completely block their services. But the Russian government countered this move and blocked millions of IP addresses, including those of major cloud providers like Amazon AWS, Google Cloud and others. And as a result of casting such a wide net, many other companies that are built on top of those Cloud providers have also been blocked. Services from Google and Amazon were also impacted.

The spike in the connect time was caused by the blocked IPs. The graph below breaks down the data by ISPs and we can clearly see the impact.

Regional availability Google AWS April 2018

Amazon services took a big hit in multiple cities across Russia while Google services fared better.

Telegram has encouraged its users to access the service through VPNs and proxies. The company has been actively funding VPN providers in a bid to circumvent the ban and to show its staunch support for a free and independent internet.

For many years, I have been a bit worried about the balkanization of the internet with each country enacting their own set of rules. Such rules are not only a major roadblock in application performance and end user experience, it is also threatening to limit us from realizing the full potential of the internet.

Technology has evolved and interwoven with everything we do; from managing our work-related tasks to connecting us through social media, multiple applications help us with our daily routines. Our reliance on shared services, services that drive our daily lives can be harmed with such rules and regulations that try to limit our access to the internet.

The world wide web is not a monopoly, there are thousands of companies relying on shared services from cloud providers, DNS providers, CDN providers, CRM solutions… this is a ticking bomb! Imagine if tomorrow a country decides to block AWS, then Akamai, then DYN and Salesforce, lights off!

We are still monitoring the situation and as of April 29th performance continues to fluctuate but it seems that things are improving.

Google AWS April 29
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