back to article Vlad the blockader: Russia's anti-VPN law comes into effect

A Russian law that bans the use or provision of virtual private networks (VPNs) will come into effect Wednesday. The legislation will require ISPs to block websites that offer VPNs and similar proxy services that are used by millions of Russians to circumvent state-imposed internet censorship. It was signed by President …

  1. Mark 85 Silver badge

    I guess a hardline approach from the West would be to cut the cables to China and Russia. It would solve the hacking of the West but then it also prevents info flowing to the West. I have a feeling that the world will soon have several "internets" based on countries and politics. Very sad to think about this happening.

    1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
      Stop

      @Mark85

      What, we're supposed to smuggle our videos of shirtless Vlad Putin on his horse/wrestling a tiger/practicing his ju-jitsu out of Russia on USB sticks? The horror!

      1. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Re: @Mark85

        What, we're supposed to smuggle our videos of shirtless Vlad Putin on his horse/wrestling a tiger/practicing his ju-jitsu out of Russia on USB sticks? The horror!

        There'll be special FSB Sticks instead...

    2. thegroucho
      Trollface

      @Mark85

      Those Russian, Chinese and NorK hackers don't know they can fly to a western country (or any nearby country which doesn't suppress Internet) and try hacking from there ...

      1. Justacog

        Re: @Mark85

        The Russians can do that, but not too many people in China or North Korea are allowed to leave the country.

    3. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      How about we block all the connections that aren't VPN? China and Russia go through incredible efforts to block outside media, even if it requires human rights violations, but are happy to let crime gangs use whatever government network resources they wish. It only seems fair.

      1. TheVogon Silver badge

        "How about we block all the connections that aren't VPN?"

        So how would you tell the difference between SSL Web page access and a VPN?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Just stick proxies on cloud flare, AWS, Azure, etc. Good luck with a working Internet when they try and block those....

      1. Kiwi Silver badge
        Trollface

        Just stick proxies on cloud flare, AWS, Azure, etc. Good luck with a working Internet when they try and block those....

        Given all the crap we see with clodfool of late, I think they're doing a damned fine job of blocking the internet for the Russians, Chinese and everyone else, wanted or not!

    5. Adam 1 Silver badge

      not quite

      I can more imagine the West's governments saying "that's a neat idea".

    6. Potemkine! Silver badge

      Cutting the cables would be Putin's and Xi's dream

      On the contrary, we should give the Russian and Chinese people more ways to circumvent this censorship: more cables, more satellites, more open sources projects to defeat their will to control minds.

      1. Mahhn

        Re: Cutting the cables would be Putin's and Xi's dream

        you are correct!

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Cutting the cables would be Putin's and Xi's dream

        The Internet sees censorship as damage and routes around it.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Cutting the cables would be Putin's and Xi's dream

          But it's hard to route around a chokepoint. Thus why points of national ingress/egress are restricted to create those chokepoints.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I guess a hardline approach from the West would be to cut the cables to China and Russia

      Oh come on, you know the response from the West will be to pass identical legislation because "terrrists"!

  2. TheVogon Silver badge

    "The legislation will require ISPs to block websites that offer VPNs and similar proxy services that are used by millions of Russians to circumvent state-imposed internet censorship."

    I note that NordVPN already added an "obfuscated server" mode under advanced settings to defeat this and i expect others will follow. Cue a large game of Whack-a-Mole. And I dont remember any government ever wining one of those.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        They don't give a flying fuck about plugging every conceivable hole you know of that could potentially get around them. I'm sure they have their own means of dealing with any of their own domestic "smartguys" if they care to - they just want the most well-known and widely-used means of circumvention that even average people have heard about off their table.

        1. JLV Silver badge

          >the most well-known and widely-used means of circumvention that even average people

          Another advantage is that, once basic stuff is criminalized, you have a ready stick to beat on someone's head when you need to accuse them of something. Works even, actually works even better, when everyone's doing it.

          Putin's done it before, with his laws declaring anyone receive support or aid from international civil society, as "helping foreign (enemy) agents". Takes very little to run afoul of that, and - bam - your anti-Putin political party can be banned.

      2. DeKrow
        Stop

        If Russia implements anything like the Great-Firewall-of-China, most of the methods you list will be detected and blocked. The Chinese one is scarily "smart". This article is very interesting:

        http://blog.zorinaq.com/my-experience-with-the-great-firewall-of-china/

    2. Aqua Marina

      Cue a large game of Whack-a-Mole

      "Cue a large game of Whack-a-Mole"

      In Soviet Russia, government does not whack mole. Goverment whack you!*

      *Sad because it's true!

  3. Alister Silver badge

    Russia is using its sway at the United Nations to push a much more restrictive approach to the internet: something that many Western governments fear hope will lead to a gradual shutting down of the open internet.

    TFTFY

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Bah, beat me to it!

  4. Blotto Bronze badge

    I bet Trump......

    Is looking on enviously at these developments and wondering how quickly he can get his lackey to do similar in the US. If it’s good enough for Vlad it’s good enough for Trump.

    I reckon too that the UK home sec wants the same but is not tough enough (thankfully) to see it through.

    Why is it our UK system works out better than that if the leaders of the free world?

    1. streaky Silver badge

      Re: I bet Trump......

      Can't pull this stuff in the west because it'll end the economic system as we know it. I literally couldn't do my job.. They either want tax revenues or they don't and if they don't they should let me know so I can get paid in a tax haven like Branson.

    2. P. Lee Silver badge

      Re: I bet Trump......

      >was justified as a necessary measure to prevent the spread of extremism online.

      It's a good job our governments don't have this attitude... oh wait.

      Don't confuse a difference in individual measures with a difference in desire and capability.

  5. GnuTzu Silver badge
    Joke

    Ooops; Now El Reg is Blocked

    I wonder how many news sites will be blocked for reporting on this. Certainly this comment will be [CENSORED].

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ooops; Now El Reg is Blocked

      Actually it will not. It used to take considerably more than that to get Roskomnadzor on your tail.

      In order for them to ban it, you need to break one of the local laws. Then you get a takedown notice, then you have to ignore it, then you get banned.

      For example Wikipedia is a regular sin bin customer because it keeps publishes information on how to isolate or synthesize drugs. You are not allows to openly publish that under Russian law. It also ignores any Russian takedown orders out of political principles.

      It is a bit disingenuous to pretend that all of this is a purely Russian affair. End of the day, while you CAN lookup explosives or weapon making techniques from the UK, if your interest is too persistent you are likely to get a visit with a battering ram and armed police to dissuade you of such "undemocratic" interests. Similarly, UK has a similar system to enforce censorship at a moment's notice if need be - the one put in supposedly to deal with pirated content and pedophiles. The difference is that there is ABSOLUTELY NO LAW controlling its use.

      1. gr00001000
        Big Brother

        Re: Ooops; Now El Reg is Blocked

        Hey look its one of the famous Russian Trolls! Typing in anti-Western views from their troll factory.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Ooops; Now El Reg is Blocked

          Hey look its one of the famous Russian Trolls! Typing in anti-Western views from their troll factory.

          He’s laughed at my losses, made fun of my earnings, humiliated my race, thwarted my deals, turned my friends against me, riled up my enemies—and why? Because I’m a Troll. Doesn’t a Troll have eyes? Doesn’t a Troll have hands, bodily organs, a human shape, five senses, feelings, and passions? Doesn’t a Troll eat the same food, get hurt with the same weapons, get sick with the same diseases, get healed by the same medicine, and warm up in summer and cool off in winter just like a Christian? If you prick us with a pin, don’t we bleed? If you tickle us, don’t we laugh? If you poison us, don’t we die? And if you treat us badly, won’t we try to get revenge? If we’re like you in everything else, we’ll resemble you in that respect.

          Sincerely,

          A Troll

          [with apologies to Mr. Shakespeare]

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Ooops; Now El Reg is Blocked

            Doesn’t a Troll eat the same food, get hurt with the same weapons, get sick with the same diseases, get healed by the same medicine, .... just like a Christian?

            Er, probably not, no.

      2. GnuTzu Silver badge
        Big Brother

        Re: Ooops; Now El Reg is Blocked

        Truly, I concede it is a deep subject, and there are merits to such points. Yet, I just couldn't resist a tongue-and-check jibe. Of course, we should feel lucky to have such conversations--for now.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ooops; Now El Reg is Blocked

        "It is a bit disingenuous to pretend that all of this is a purely Russian affair."

        Quite. The list of websites blocked in UK is pretty extensive. However using EE or a VPN plus Google DNS easily bypasses that.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Ooops; Now El Reg is Blocked

          Quite. The list of websites blocked in UK is pretty extensive. However using EE or a VPN plus Google DNS easily bypasses that.

          Until the UK proscribes VPNs because "the Children!"

  6. chivo243 Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Smart guy

    That Putin character...

    He making sure he doesn't get screwed by the same con that with which Russia screwed Amerika.

    Doesn't make him a nice guy...

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    something that many Western governments fear

    do they REALLY? Being cynical, I would say OUR Western governments quietly pat themselves on the back for this developement, they can then happily blame it on "oppressive Russian regime", while slownly boiling their own frogs, i.e. us.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Western democracies would do this if they could get away with it

    Don't kid yourself into believing otherwise. They hate uncontrolled thought as much as the totalitarian regimes, but are forced to maintain the appearance of freedom while quietly chipping away at its foundations.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Western democracies would do this if they could get away with it

      And unfortunately, people just keep voting them into power.

      If only it was possible to get the electorate to boycott the 2 main parties until they changed their tune...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Western democracies would do this if they could get away with it

        "And unfortunately, people just keep voting them into power."

        With 110% majorities...

    2. streaky Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Western democracies would do this if they could get away with it

      Western democracies would do this if they could get away with it

      "if they could get away with it" .. "democracies"

      You see the problem with your argument right?

      Sure of course they would but they can't so what's your point?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Western democracies would do this if they could get away with it

        @streaky

        They're democracies in name only.

        1. streaky Silver badge

          Re: Western democracies would do this if they could get away with it

          And yet here we are with no great firewall blocking out vpns and access to the actual internet.

          You're confusing I don't like who won with it's not a democracy.

          Easy to do when you're hiding behind AC though.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Western democracies would do this if they could get away with it

            Errr, no I'm not confusing "I don't like who won" with "it's not a democracy".

            A legitimate democracy is about representing everyone equally. In the UK, we definitely don't have that, as explained by the BBC. In 2015, a UKIP MP required almost 4M votes to get one seat, the Greens, 1.2M and LIbDems 300K whilst Tories and Labour only needed 30K.

            Maybe you could explain in your own words how that has anything to do with being a democracy. It has more in common with the Democratic (sic) Republic of North Korea where the controlling votes are stacked in favour of the ruling elite.

            BTW people who highlight AC posts are more interested in shooting the messenger than defending their own claims. Nice distraction try though - no doubt you'll use it again when someone else disagrees with your views. But at least we'll know it's you:)

            1. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. goretsky

    Hello,

    One candidate reason for enacting this law, along with other requirements from Roskomnadzor, such as the Yarovaya law package (Russian federal bills 374-FZ and 375-FZ) requiring the capture of calls and their metadata, registration of blogs with more than 3,000 readers, requirement that social media services store data from Russian accounts in Russia, and the perennial proposals of requirements for Internet users to register, etc., is in large part due to concerns over their citizens being influenced from foreign meddling.

    As to why Russia is concerned about these services being used by hostile nation state actors engaging in such meddling, the simplest answer is that they use these techniques themselves with a high level of efficacy Having seen their success, they have s strong desire to prevent the same techniques from being used against them.

    Regards,

    Aryeh Goretsky

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    VPN 2.0

    Virtual Putin Network

  11. Winkypop Silver badge
    Devil

    Trump will do similar

    FNN

    Fake News Network

  12. herman Silver badge

    Oh, not to worry. Ruskies can read Wikipedia using the Outernet, at the super speed of 2 kbps.

    https://store.outernet.is/

  13. Louis Schreurs BEng

    those in power will use their power to keep them in power.

    East, North, West, South.

    all of them

  14. Pollik

    Goodness, we can't have the plebs getting themselves informed. Down with this sort of thing.

    It won't work, of course.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      What do you mean it won't work? All they'd need to do is ban all unsanctioned encryption. Then practically anything that tried would stick out like a sore thumb.

  15. Temmokan

    Wikipedia isn't actually blocked

    Wikipedia isn't actually blocked from Russian networks. Perhaps only certain pages are, the majority of Wikipedia sites are available without any restrictions.

    However, a number of sites, such as LinkedIn, are blocked due to many reasons, most of which are very moot.

    1. Kiwi Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Wikipedia isn't actually blocked

      However, a number of sites, such as LinkedIn, are blocked due to many reasons, most of which are very moot.
      ?

      LI is blocked in Russia?

      Looks like it's time to sell up and move!

  16. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Coat

    "Dobby" will not be mocked.

    By anyone.

    Ever.

    Anywhere.

    Personally I think one day he will be launded as a great gay icon. So butch.

    But that's just me.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: "Dobby" will not be mocked.

      "Personally I think one day he will be launded as a great gay icon. So butch."

      Yes, the Rock Hudson is strong in him.

  17. jameshogg

    Unless every connection from Russia to any other outside country is severed, there will be a way around.

    Every computer that can connect to another computer outside of Russia can potentially act as a proxy. ToR's whole game isn't just encryption, but multiple proxies with the intent of outnumbering a hostile state.

    The only thing that comes close to getting in the way of traffic is China's firewall which works on a "everything is banned unless we approve of it" level as much as it can, but even that can sometimes look like trying to pick up water with a fish net.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Well, the state CAN exhibit control of all outside links since these tend to be done by trunk lines that usually have to go through them to approve. If there are few ways in or out, just like IRL, it's easier to guard them. I think that's how China keeps its Great Firewall working. Also, with fewer sanctioned passages, it becomes easier to investigate "holes".

  18. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Streisand effect

    Forbidding to visit foreign websites will have the well known effect to give to plenty of people the envy to visit these websites. In the end such a move will be counterproductive

  19. cysec

    He's Putin the boot in.... The Russians are clever they will find a way round it...

    1. Kiwi Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      The Russians are clever they will find a way round it...

      Maybe that explains the interest in my old (now inactive) email server, someone trying to find a way in to set up an under-the-radar VPN... If they'd only just ask, I might let them have access to my one. But carrying the data across the boarder one byte at a time might be faster since it's on a rather busy ADSL segment!

      (El Reg, an icon to better express the sudden attainment of severe enlightenment would be appreciated! Come on, you've had room for more for ages! :) )

      (FTWBAM1: Things like ReverseDNS were turned off a long time ago, so any attempts to transmit from the server would be flagged and sidelined by any half-decent spam filter. And it was secure, I asked some guy on IRC how to secure it properly!2)

      1For Those Who'd Bitch and Moan

      2 Joke, duh. I asked me mom, she's heard of computers and should know something about them!

  20. jackr

    If they are expecting ISP to distinguish https traffic from encrypted traffic then I am not sure how they can implement this. They can ban russian VPN, but people can purchase VPN outside of russia and the connection will be encrypted. Someone could purchase a vps or server and then run an encrypted tunnel or setup their own vpn. Nearly all large business use a form of VPN. Seems like a stupid rule and basically a way for the Russian government to clamp down on internet freedom. They fear the internet will lead to a power shift, they pretend that it is about security. The western government use the same excuse.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      They could just go whole hog and ban all unsanctioned encryption, and if you want to run a business in Russia, you must submit to the Mother or not do business, period. That'll make nearly all forms of encryption stick out like a sore thumb. Even stego's gonna be hard to get past a well-conditioned traffic sniffer.

      1. Kiwi Silver badge

        They could just go whole hog and ban all unsanctioned encryption, and if you want to run a business in Russia, you must submit to the Mother or not do business, period. That'll make nearly all forms of encryption stick out like a sore thumb. Even stego's gonna be hard to get past a well-conditioned traffic sniffer.

        Really? How? Come on, you talk about this a lot, how about some actual ideas of how it would actually happen?

        Eg how can you tell "encryption" from "damaged packet", "game data", various video streams, "stego" (which doesn't stick out at all, have you not noticed that there's a huge number of file formats that collect garbage, such places being great for "stego" for a start).

        Given that Russia is a significant trading country that uses encryption to protect international trade, how then will it work?

        Russia also has boarders with other countries that aren't under the thumb - line-of-sight optical or radio networking can be built (like dissidents have been doing for decades) - how is your magical catchall going to stop or even really slow this stuff down?

        Would love to see some ideas. Got friends I'd love to stay in touch with and if you have any reasonable ideas how it could be done, that helps us get ideas to circumvent.

        Please?

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Just about any other format you describe has a structure to it or it wouldn't be useful. Meaning it can be PARSED. There are few practical applications for transmitting truly random data (most are generated on the spot).

          1. Kiwi Silver badge
            FAIL

            Just about any other format you describe has a structure to it or it wouldn't be useful. Meaning it can be PARSED. There are few practical applications for transmitting truly random data (most are generated on the spot).

            F. Needs much more effort.

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

              F? How about an F for the evaluator? Does the term "Magic Number" ring a bell? PROVE it would take that much more effort given software is out there designed to identify unknown files.

              1. Kiwi Silver badge
                FAIL

                PROVE it would take that much more effort given software is out there designed to identify unknown files.

                You've had it explained to you, at length, by others. A couple of microseconds of critical thought (if you're capable of it - some of your posts show real intelligence so I hope it's possible!) would show you many possible places where this would fall flat.

                So, you're being asked to show your working. But you seem unable, maybe the intelligence shown is the fluke and the silliness we see in your posts around encryption and "PROFESSIONAL GAMERS!!1!!!!1!!!!1!!!1!!!!!!!!1!!111!!!11!!!11" and "but THEY could JUST make A LAW to FORCE you TO...." etc really are the real you?

                Still, if you put in more effort, there is yet hope.

                1. Charles 9 Silver badge
                  FAIL

                  "Still, if you put in more effort, there is yet hope."

                  YOU FIRST. Otherwise, a case like yours would get thrown out of a courtroom. IOW, you're failing AT failing. At least I'M giving specifics that I have actually encountered in real life. What's YOUR basis?

                  1. Kiwi Silver badge
                    Facepalm

                    "Still, if you put in more effort, there is yet hope."

                    YOU FIRST. Otherwise, a case like yours would get thrown out of a courtroom. IOW, you're failing AT failing. At least I'M giving specifics that I have actually encountered in real life. What's YOUR basis?

                    Ah, the old "I've seen it, really, someone else has done it" cry of the inexperienced. If you really are talking from experience and knowledge, you'd give some actual specifics (and could point to them) when being asked, rather than trying to claim you have.

                    IOW Charles, stop talking bollocks.

                    Here's a couple of really basic, easy to do but impossible to check stego ideas I've come up with this morning with a few moments thought.

                    1) I take a photo in low light, meaning grainy picture. I then alter certain pixels to a specific colour value. The code could be in the number of pixels between the encoded ones, or I could use certain colours for certain characters, even mix it up so #FFFAAA in one instance = A but in another =",", depending on what the preceding character was, or the spacing of the pixels could also change so #FFFAAA=A but no less than 150 pixels apart. Lots of ways to mix it up. Unless you know what those values are, you don't have any way to tell what is in there. A grainy enough image (like the fireworks ones I took on Saturday night) gives plenty of room for altered data. Now, what system would you use to easily automatically test for that, as you so often claim is easy? Remember, we're talking the colour of pixels in a very "noisy" picture which will have a LOT of effectively random pixels in it.

                    2) I put a number of pictures online across various sites. A small portion of each image is "visually altered" in that when all of these are collected together, you can see a small bit of information (Eg a target building and time - "target building" could be a pre-arranged one of 5, so just single 1-5, same for date and time (so 1 4 5 could represent the subway station at 104 75th street London (I hope there really is no such place). 30th February (so no one can claim I'm trying to send a secret attack date here - or am I?) at 4:70pm (seriously even a fake time!) - I could even do that taking a photo of a "nice car in the street" which just, by absolute coincidence, happens to have the right digits in the right order on it's number plate). How are your "easy to detect" methods going to find this? Hey, lets make the code for the attack a specific model of car for the building, the colour of the car for the date, a specific model of motorbike for the time and a picture of one item of house, apartment block, shop and tower block to decide if I use nerve gas/explosives/shooting etc etc etc/ Tell me how your "well-conditioned traffic sniffer" will pick any of that up?

                    In all your answers, BTW, I expect verifiable 3rd party references, not your normal "BUT they'll MAKE a LAW" or "Its easy to do I've seen it", or the stuff that calls to the use of weird drugs and vivid imagination rather than science.

                    3) I log into a chat server, or something via SSH or telnet or anything else where individual keystrokes are sent. Lets use a "online vet" as an example. I hold a conversation with someone about my cat's toilet habits, the colour of its crap, how often, what it's diet is like and so on. The encrypted message is in the pauses behind my keystrokes, which are not being typed directly by me but through software that inserts the slight delays in a way that mimics normal human typing (as we all have slight differences in the delays between keystrokes).

                    4) Or the encrypted message is in the typed-then-deleted typos and so on, where the typos spell out the key message (encrypted/encoded of course) while the rest of the data is just there to keep the officials watching chatter about kittens.

                    5) How many millions of mangled data packets does your home computer send out while you're playing online games? How about a few extra packets inserted in those streams which appear to be from the game, but get dumped by the game as mangled data? How is that going to be "easily parsed"? (makes me wonder a little more about the recently reported alterations to Windows for stopping certain game mods...)

                    Here's 5 with only a couple of minutes thought. As I've said, this stuff is easy to come up with if you sit and engage your brain for a moment. No software will be able to catch these out unless there's issues with the implementation, eg the delay between characters that equates to specific letters is too "mechanical", or the changing of dots in a grainy picture spells out words that are visible rather than being used as code in a way that would never look like written language.

                    Your so-called "real life experience" is often looks more like "wild drug trip mixed with some of the sort of interesting stuff 5yo's come up with".

                    Oh, and my basis? Growing up gay in a country that was very anti-gay, in a very conservative small farming community, where to survive and keep the few friends I could get we had to be able to communicate privately in public - sometimes just saying "leave him, he's had enough" was enough to get them beaten as well. At some stage I took an interest in resistance efforts and how they communicated (can't say whether or not "Hogan's Heroes" had any bearing on that), and after becoming a Christian I learned a bit about the supposed acts of Christians in places like Russia and China and other states where simply having a private prayer with a friend could supposedly lead to imprisonment or even death.

                    Since then I've kept a basic interest in privacy and preventing conversations being monitored should we choose to do so. I've probably watched way to many movies where the innocent man on the street suddenly has to become an expert at evading tails and avoiding state-sponsored eavesdropping.

                    Oh, and I've spent a long time in computing, various childhood "wargames" where we couldn't always be sure we weren't being heard, various RPG's where you couldn't be sure the SysOp of an intermediary BBS wasn't also an "enemy agent" (ok, one we were sure about - much fun sending plaintext plans through his system which said something different - just toggling a few things like a ".." at the end of a sentence or an extra space would change the meaning of the words we wrote - and this was long before we had internet or cheap calling rates so phoning wasn't an option (not at >$1/minute rates!), and of course time in front-line computing cleaning up the systems of victims of malware and hacks.

                    Not a great deal, but enough to give me some actual "real-world experience" and some basic ideas that work (even if at a low data rate) and can be openly published without fear of detection (unless you do something silly like put "the attached images contain stego of our terrorist plot" in the same email).

                    It's really easy to come up with this stuff, and no "well-conditioned traffic sniffer" will even get a hint there's more there to look at, let alone being able to "easily parse" it.

                    Engage brain Charles. You can do better than this, I have seen it! You might want to try playing some chess for a while. Oh, a whole new range of stego there - sending chess moves in the mail!

                    (BTW, I've spent a while encoding 8 different texts in here. Tell me what and how if it's so easy. The clear text of one of those is "You're talking bollocks" to help get you stared (must remember to stick the geany in the bottle so I can recall it myself later!) - IOW yes, I've used multiple versions of stego in this one message!

                    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                      You forget. You first have to get the cipher to the other side first. First Contact Problem. And the Russians are infamous for their intelligence network, remember? Unless you can demonstrate a zero-knowledge cipher.

                      Plus, if the Russians control most of the lines in there, don't you think they'd be able to do some kind of on-the-fly sanitation and mangling to throw things off, just on general principles? What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander (meaning, what if the Russians are doing the same thing as a COUNTER-intelligence ploy). If the Chinese could do it, why not the Russians? At the very least, they could slow clandestine communications to a crawl.

                      1. Kiwi Silver badge

                        You forget. You first have to get the cipher to the other side first.

                        No shit Sherlock. But what have you forgotten.. Gee let me see. Oh yes, that's right I said I have friends who travel to Russia and I'd like to be able to talk to them freely while they're there, remember?

                        First Contact Problem.

                        Which was solved the moment we met in that bar. Remember?

                        Aside from that, when things were locked up tighter than North Korea this didn't stop things. Agents still found people in government areas they could bribe or otherwise convince to pass secrets. These people were facing imprisonment in the worst places on earth and then death, often for their whole family as well, and yet the US and other countries has quite a few "assets". Without internet, with very few phone lines, little radio range, no personal transmitters, what they did have heavily monitored, with all that they still sent and received information. And in a way that most of the time was undetected.

                        In the case you were asked about (remember?), we're talking chat between a couple of people who meet often, spend whole days together "normal" things.

                        And the Russians are infamous for their intelligence network, remember?

                        Yeah, pretty hard to get stuff in and out of Russia since they're neither allowed to travel to other countries nor even communicate or receive data from outside sources. Oh no, wait a minute, that's changed now. Remember?

                        Unless you can demonstrate a zero-knowledge cipher.

                        Could I use one of your posts as an example?

                        Plus, if the Russians control most of the lines in there, don't you think they'd be able to do some kind of on-the-fly sanitation and mangling to throw things off, just on general principles?

                        To what purpose? Changing the data in all emails so the words no longer say the same? Random flipping bits in pictures to possible throw off something in that? There's lots of bits to flip, and if I send a dozen pictures with a dozen possible ways to flip them, only one has to get through intact. What if I build a Linux distribution and make use of signed code among the updates, and put a few new random background images in as part of that - how will this remain undetected? The checksum will be out, so we know something has changed in the downloads. This would only work in your mind.

                        What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander (meaning, what if the Russians are doing the same thing as a COUNTER-intelligence ploy).

                        They're not. We use tools like Freefilesync, and of course some of the various cloud offerings do the same - flipping a bit in a picture should cause a different checksum, flipping several will. Yet thus far what has come over in email and what is in his local backups match exactly, so no flippage there. In a 4MP camera there's plenty room enough to embed several code layers.

                        If the Chinese could do it, why not the Russians? At the very least, they could slow clandestine communications to a crawl.

                        Again, a country with fairly free borders, and still a lot of traffic. A plain text cipher passes all borders without notice unless for some reason you're really being targeted and all your communications stopped. Chinese can still upload to picture sites that can be accessed from outside China, same for the Russians.

                        Remember that much in the way of "clandestine communications" are very short messages comprising of a very few words (or dates/numbers etc), or sometimes a common phrase that can be sent safely in the clear, eg "Jim's latest poem". Hell, codes have been transmitted in things like recipes. Personal ads in newspapers have been a huge favourite for a long time. Many blogs say far more than the words that appear on the page.

                        There was no argument to counter in your post, I'd already covered them in previous posts.

                        Perhaps in your next post you can mention some of these "specifics" you claim to have?

  21. Kiwi Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Clean up your own users first...

    Maybe this will help.

    I spend some time today with a mothballed email server (server does a couple of roles, used to do email but I don't need my private server and the headaches that go with it). Before I closed port 25 off at the firewall I (by fluke) noticed a couple of IP's sniffing around that port, and a lot of entires in Fail2ban's log over the last few days with those same IP's. Those IP's have been blacklisted, and when I get over to the place that houses the server I'll turn off the ports at the router level (can't do that remotely, thankfully!).

    Hmm, wonder if the router will let me blacklist IP's or ranges...

    I don't want to block Russia wholesale as I have friends from there who return every couple of years, but I would rather not have to put up with constant noise from there. Same from China. You two nations have some of the toughest "clean&safe internet" laws out there, yet the most attacks on systems come from there. Ya listening Putin? Your subjects have been naughty, block them from getting out before you worry about what's getting in!

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Clean up your own users first...

      "I don't want to block Russia wholesale as I have friends from there who return every couple of years, but I would rather not have to put up with constant noise from there. Same from China. You two nations have some of the toughest "clean&safe internet" laws out there, yet the most attacks on systems come from there. Ya listening Putin? Your subjects have been naughty, block them from getting out before you worry about what's getting in!"

      You ever thought that these attacks of which you speak are actually SANCTIONED by their respective governments, given they're attacking the West? A kind of Plausibly Deniable Cyberwar?

      1. Kiwi Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Clean up your own users first...

        You ever thought that these attacks of which you speak are actually SANCTIONED by their respective governments, given they're attacking the West? A kind of Plausibly Deniable Cyberwar?

        If so their target aquisition systems need some work. That's "state SANCTIONED"? Against a Toshiba M200, running on a slow-as ASDL? Defeated at the first hurdle by Fail2ban, over and over? An attack detected by me while I was just idly sitting there watching nethogs and htop while running a check for updates? (and then only to be sure my connection was still live, given how flaky what I have here is).

        If they can't get past that level, then turning their mouse upside down is probably enough to stop them ever getting online again!

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Clean up your own users first...

          Hits on you are just backscatter from their bottom-tier attackers, nothing at all from their APT teams.

  22. simonb_london

    It's a cool way to ensure that most Internet users in Russia are smarter because more of them will have worked out how to circumvent really obvious restrictions. In the West censorship is more subtle ("Who will protect us from this EVIL fake news!") and it is more likely people will just accept whatever they are steered towards.

    1. Kiwi Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      It's a cool way to ensure that most Internet users in Russia are smarter because more of them will have worked out how to circumvent really obvious restrictions.

      +1 Insightful.

      Could be a great way to train people alright, "if you want the internet you have to get past our defences". Hmm...

  23. JLV Silver badge

    let's hear it for our boy!

    Can't wait for one of our usual Vlad apologists to come forward and say "oh, he's not that bad. it's all because of how we treat him and are being brainwashed into judging Russia harshly".

    I was recently surprised to see that, in his Russia, which often hankers to the good ol days pre-Gorbie, someone was going to be persecuted for making a movie critical of Nicolas II, the rather dim-witted Tsar that led Russia (and arguably the world) so incompetently into WWI. And then made such a hash of running the war.

    I mean Slow Nicky got executed by the Commies so I found it odd to see a country run by an ex KGB have a law against making fun of him.

    Turns out that the Orthodox church, with whom Vlad has symbiotic relationship, a la Saud-Wahhabi, had Slow Nicky canonized as a saint (saint of what? treating your peasants like serfs?). And it is now a crime to make fun of him.

    Yup, totally a normal misunderstood country.

    p.s. I believe it was Dan Carlin in Hardcore History who characterized Nicolas II as "someone who, with good intentions and a lot of hard work, might have eventually managed to make a competent mailman".

  24. Cyberhash
    Angel

    Is anyone really surprised by this ??. Guess it would be hard for you average Ruskie to comprehend that we eat cornflakes while watching Eastenders & WhatsApping our bits on the side pictures of our freshly shaven genitalia , and smoke a fat green one every 30 mins whilst living on benefits. Our biggest worry is our phone going below 5% charge.

    These Russians can read minds and hack you bigtime. NATALIA from Russia emails me every day offering me sex and to look at her photos. She really knows what I'm into and it worries me that she has placed a Krack infested Wi-Fi router under my house that links my thoughts directly to the Kremlin.

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