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Russia looks to block and other communications providers

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The ongoing battle of Russia’s powerful internal security agency FSB against encrypted messaging and email services has entered a new phase. The FSB has enlisted the help of the telecommunications, IT and media regulator Roskomnadzor to ask a court to block Mailbox and Scryptmail email providers.

The Russian website RBK writes about this, explaining that Germany and America-based companies behind these services – Heinlein Support and SCRYPTmail – previously failed to register with the authorities as required by Russian law. Both are marketed as focusing strongly on the privacy segment and offering end-to-end encryption.

And according to RBK, both managed to draw FSB’s attention to themselves when their users started sending out a large number of fake reports about terrorist threats. The article said that although ProtonMail was also used for this purpose, Roskomnadzor has not asked the court to block it. These false reports have been widespread in Russia since 2017, resulting in disruptions and evacuations of thousands of people – something the country’s authorities are now reportedly eager to stop by blocking access to entire email services.

Neither the FSB nor the two companies were willing to comment on this development. RBK noted that the process to block the two email providers will in legal terms follow the model applied to the Telegram messaging service – adding, however, that “imperfections in the blocking system” are resulting in Telegram’s continued availability in Russia.

On the other hand, some experts argued that it will be easier to block an email service than a messenger like Telegram. In any case, Russia is preparing to a new law to come into effect on November 1 that will see the deployment of Deep Packet Inspection equipment, which should result in more efficient blocking of services.

The legislation in question is known as the “sovereign Runet (Russian internet).” The law has been criticized as being designed to impose the state’s tight control of the internet, and for its potential to introduce wide-spread and large-scale censorship. The authorities, meanwhile, say the new rules are meant to allow Runet to function in case the country is cut off from the global internet by others.

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