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Tools behind Belarus internet censorship potentially revealed

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According to a Bloomberg report, the technology used to block much of the internet access during the recent presidential elections in Belarus has come from a US-based company.

The report states that Sandvine Inc., had supplied the necessary equipment to the Lukashenko government a few months earlier through an intermediary.

On August 9, Belarus held the presidential elections where Alexander Lukashenko was elected for the sixth consecutive time. However, the Election Day was marked by irregularities that cast doubt on the transparency of the elections.

In addition to the barricades built by security forces that prevented the passage of civilians to Minsk, Belarus’ capital, the internet services in the country had a major disruption that affected access to websites such as social networks, news pages, and messaging applications.

The disruption lasted for up to three days, and there are still websites that are inaccessible in a normal way, so citizens need to use tools such as VPNs or specialized browsers.

The nation’s authorities indicated that the internet service failures were caused by a DDoS attack coming from abroad, but reports from security firms and human rights activists said the interference came from within the same country.

Now, two people who have decided to remain anonymous have reported to Bloomberg that Belarus’ government was responsible for the internet crash. The curious thing is that, according to them, the government used technology from a US company for the blockade.

According to the information, the government would have used “Deep packet inspection” specialized hardware. These intercept the data packets sent between two computers and analyze them in search of certain parameters, which can then be blocked or eliminated. This technology is widely used in the search for viruses and illegal content, but it can also be used for repression.

The Belarus government would have acquired the equipment as part of a new budget approved in 2018 for the nation’s technological defense. The manufacturer of this technology would be the American company Sandvine Inc., although everything indicates that Belarus’ National Traffic Exchange Center (the nation’s internet regulator) acquired it through a third party, the Russian supplier Jet Infosystems.

However, even though there was an intermediary in the acquisition of the equipment, this sale could be considered illegal according to lawyer Nnedinma Ifudu Nweke, who specializes in United States economic sanctions.

The report alleges that, since 2006, Belarus has been sanctioned by the USA, so the sale of goods or services to the nation is prohibited.

Nweke said Sandvine Inc. should have been careful when selling its technology to a third party who could resell it to a sanctioned country.

This would not be the first time the technology has been accused of being used to repress a nation. Citizen Lab, a Toronto security firm, had indicated that in 2018 equipment from this manufacturer was used in internet blocks that occurred in Egypt and Turkey. Sandvine Inc. said this investigation was false.

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