March 8, 2022

Lumen Technologies, an American company that operates one of the largest Internet backbones and carries a significant percentage of the world’s Internet traffic, said today it will stop routing traffic for organizations based in Russia. Lumen’s decision comes just days after a similar exit by backbone provider Cogent, and amid a news media crackdown in Russia that has already left millions of Russians in the dark about what is really going on with their president’s war in Ukraine.

Monroe, La. based Lumen [NYSE: LUMN] (formerly CenturyLink) initially said it would halt all new business with organizations based in Russia, leaving open the possibility of continuing to serve existing clients there. But on Tuesday the company said it could no longer justify that stance.

“Life has taken a turn in Russia and Lumen is unable to continue to operate in this market,” Lumen said in a published statement. “The business services we provide are extremely small and very limited as is our physical presence. However, we are taking steps to immediately stop business in the region.”

“We decided to disconnect the network due to increased security risk inside Russia,” the statement continues. “We have not yet experienced network disruptions but given the increasingly uncertain environment and the heightened risk of state action, we took this move to ensure the security of our and our customers’ networks, as well as the ongoing integrity of the global Internet.”

According to Internet infrastructure monitoring firm Kentik, Lumen is the top international transit provider to Russia, with customers including Russian telecom giants Rostelecom and TTK, as well as all three major mobile operators (MTS, Megafon and VEON).

“A backbone carrier disconnecting its customers in a country the size of Russia is without precedent in the history of the internet and reflects the intense global reaction that the world has had over the invasion of Ukraine,” wrote Doug Madory, Kentik’s director of Internet analysis.

It’s not clear whether any other Internet backbone providers — some of which are based outside of the United States — will follow the lead of Lumen and Cogent. But Madory notes that as economic sanctions continue to exact a toll on Russia’s economy, its own telecommunications firms may have difficulty paying foreign transit providers for service.

Ukrainian leaders petitioned the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) — the nonprofit organization charged with overseeing the global domain name system — to disconnect Russia’s top-level domain (.ru) from the Internet. ICANN respectfully declined that request, but many technology giants, including Amazon, Apple and Microsoft, have moved on their own to suspend new business in the country.

Meanwhile, Russia recently cracked down on the last remaining vestiges of a free press within its borders, passing a new law that threatens up to 15 years in jail for anyone who publishes content that refers to the conflict in Ukraine as a “war” or “invasion.”

As Neil MacFarquhar writes for The New York Times, what little coverage there is on Russian television networks about the invasion does not include any footage of the devastation wrought by Russian troops on the Ukrainian citizenry. At the same time, the Russian government has blocked Facebook and partly blocked Twitter, while other platforms like TikTok have suspended services in the country.

“To spend several days watching news broadcasts on the main state channels, as well as surveying state-controlled newspapers, is to witness the extent of the Kremlin’s efforts to sanitize its war with the Orwellian term ‘special military operation’ — and to make all news coverage align with that message,” MacFarquhar wrote.

The Washington Post, which was the first to report on Cogent’s decision last week, wrote that these independent actions by private tech companies collectively “will leave Russians more dependent than ever on government propaganda that already dominates the nation’s newspapers and broadcast stations, leaving few ways to access independent sources of news at a time when the country has entered a severe political crisis.”

In a blog post titled “Why the World Must Resist Calls to Undermine the Internet,” Internet Society President Andrew Sullivan said cutting a whole population off the Internet will stop disinformation coming from that population — but it also stops the flow of truth.

“Without the Internet, the rest of the world would not know of atrocities happening in other places,” Sullivan wrote. “And without the Internet, ordinary citizens of many countries wouldn’t know what was being carried out in their name. Our best hope, however dim, is that those supporting an aggressive regime will change their support. More information can help, even as disinformation circulates. We need a better understanding of what is and is not disinformation.”

There is another — perhaps less popular — camp, which holds that isolating Russia from the rest of the Internet might be THE thing that encourages more Russians to protest the war in Ukraine, and ultimately to take back control of their own country from its autocratic and kleptocratic leaders.

Not long after Russia invaded Ukraine, I heard from an old pen-pal in Ukraine: Sergey Vovnenko, a.k.a. “Flycracker,” a.k.a the convicted Ukrainian cybercriminal who once executed a plot to have me framed for heroin possession. Vovnenko did his time in a U.S. prison, left Fly behind, and we have since buried the hatchet. He’s now hunkered down in Lviv, Ukraine, which is serving as a major artery for refugees seeking shelter outside Ukraine’s borders.

These days, Vovnenko says he is working with many sympathetic hackers to fight the Russians online. Asked what he thought about the idea of Russia being isolated from the rest of the Internet, Vovnenko said it couldn’t happen soon enough given the Russian government’s new media blitz to cast the war in a patriotic light.

“I think they should be disconnected, maybe Russian people will rebel against Putin after that,” he said.

51 thoughts on “Internet Backbone Giant Lumen Shuns .RU

  1. dvargas

    I know who would be really unhappy about the disconnectiom — Russian cybercriminals. Works for me!

    1. Vollinger

      I’m curious what kind of new and exotic cybercriminal will move in to fill that void. Brian, please let us know if you start receiving poisoned croissants or maybe exploding Cohiba cigars in the mail.

      1. Nullroute

        This won’t stop any attacks. The Russian ISPs will just route around the dead routes. It absolutely will NOT stop any Russian state sponsored attacks even if all the Western connection providers null routed Russia entirely. Those groups will just relocate just like North Korea’s groups operate from the PRC. It’s likely the wealthy cyber gangs will do the same. Plenty of other countries without extradition treaties with the West to operate from.

  2. I Wonder...

    If enough backbone providers disconnect RU, would it be enough to break the blockchains that are funding cybercrime from that country ? It might be able to block further payments and bring the ‘business’ to it’s knees, but could it actually bring down crypto ?

    1. dvv

      You understand that cryptocurrencies don’t usually work with carrier pigeons at the network level, right?

  3. approximator

    Not sure how constructive these steps are. Yes, this will certainly impact the population, but the risk of the isolation from the rest of the world is that it will turn Russia into another North Korea. One of those is one more than anyone needs.
    Perhaps redirecting their users attempting to access non-locally hosted services to a mandatory 5 minute world news channel before allowing access would’ve been better.
    Since we cannot control their access to the Internet completely, as they can always egress through China and India, the impact on their offensive cyber capabilities should theoretically be limited.

    1. JamminJ

      North Korea is not the way it is because of isolation. North Korea is isolated because of the way it is.

    2. yolo Jess

      North Korea has zero economic or conventional military leverage, mostly irrelevant in the world theater. They are a shell of a nation with some low tech nukes. If that’s what Russia becomes with Putin still in charge, great!

  4. Loraine

    Echoing the previous comment, and maybe beyond your purview, but will oligarchs turn to Bitcoin, et al and what entities would have to step up to stymie that?

    1. JamminJ

      Oligarchs are already heavily into Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

      In the US, The Treasury dept. has OFAC. They “stymie” (sanction) transactions going to any entity that support terrorism. This sanctions list (SDN) may soon expand to cover Russian cybercrime organizations and the business of all Russian oligarchs. This will make it a crime to send even bitcoin to them.
      If/when the US does this, other nations throughout the world will follow. The result will be a more effective choking of the Russian economy.

  5. Mike Jackson

    Maybe Trump could “launch” his new “product” in Russia?….LOL….Putin likes!!……

  6. Gabriele

    This and other measures to completely isolate Russia from the rest of world seems immoral and counterproductive to me. These decisions cost nothing to the ones taking them, but can ruin the lifes of common citizens and companies in Russia which have no chance of affecting the decisions of Russian leadership. I mean, how many would have supported excluding the US from the internet because of the Iraq war? And what the average US citizen could have done to stop Bush? Some of these choices are just mean, like excluding Russian athletes from sport competition. Does anybody think that forbidden disabled Russian athletes to compete in the Paralympics will stop Putin?

    Let’s think about the long-term consequences. Citizens of authoritarian countries will be even more wary of having contacts outside their own countries. They learned that their lifes and businesses can be completely destroyed if their government did something the rest of the world does not approve. We are fostering isolation and laying the groundwork for a total war, in which even basic civilian infrastructure like internet or banking can be attacked.

    1. How sanctions really work

      Sanctions are going to hurt innocent civilians too. They have to. Not because Putin cares or is influenced directly. But because his job/life is somewhat dependent on keeping those people pacified enough not to overthrow him.

      If the Russian people can just go about their daily lives as if their country isn’t run by a dictator, then they have no incentive to rise up.

      Also, the comparison doesn’t work for the US. Americans don’t really use the Internet outside of our country. Other countries would not be able to use that for a sanction. For Russia, billions of dollars come into the Russian economy due to the Internet. Yeah, they have their own sites and services, but the economy will suffer by being isolated.
      I don’t know about “ruining the lives of common citizens and companies in Russia”. It definitely will put pressure on them. Companies in Russia, if they make substantial money from being connected to the global internet, can absolutely affect the decisions of Russian leadership. Oligarchs get their cash flow from below.

      1. dvv

        Russian citizens are affecting decisions of the government by being detained for up to 15 years of forced labor for “fake new”, having their skulls cracked, and being Novichok’d otherwise.

  7. Matthias U

    Small correction: Russian state TV reports plenty about the shelling of civilian buildings etc. in Ukraine.

    They do attribute the mayhem to the “Nazis” they’re “liberating” the Ukraine from, but that’s a minor detail apparently.

  8. PHP

    Russians use the Russian Internet, just like Germans often does not use the english Internet except thru Google Translate.
    Cutting them off, will mostly be taking away gaming and Netflix from them.
    Of course there are the minority that does not support naZi Putin. They know that whatever the government says is fake news.

    1. dvv

      Russians use Internet for anything from DNS to PKI to just communicating among each other. Cutting them off the Internet will only push them right into Putin’s hands – with government-mandated X509 certificates and all.

  9. Joe Barry

    It’s amazing how willing big tech is to harm the people of a country in order to get at its leader. They have no good official source of news so the response is to cut off their only pipeline to outside sources.

    Actually, it’s not amazing at all.

    It’s scary.

  10. Pal R

    Your wisdom and good sense are not in vogue unfortunately … but your righteousness and morality are laudable.

  11. Andrew Rossetti

    This is certainly one I’m torn on. Brian, you certainly highlighted the pros and cons on both sides. It’s one thing for Coke, McDonalds, etc to stop doing business there, but this is a major step that has far reaching consequences, both good and bad, many of which are unknown at this point. I’d hate to be in a position to have to make a decision on this!

    1. Catwhisperer

      The one concrete benefit to the Russian people of this war is McDonald’s closing… Are you getting DDOS’s there Brian?

  12. Taylor

    Would Germany have turned against Hitler if they had the Internet back then? Would Facebook have been used to disseminate pictures of the Holocaust? Would it have made a difference? I don’t remember videos of concentration camps in the US moving the political needle. More likely, Goebbels would have flooded social media with disinformation, just as we’re seeing today, to the point where people stop thinking critically and choose what to believe based on what political tribe they feel they’re a part of (just as seems to be happening in Russia, with children arguing with their parents about what is real, very much like in the US and UK).

  13. Catwhisperer

    Though I agree that recent events have lead to a significant reduction is spam mail, attacks on the website, etc., I am of the same thought as Internet Society President Andrew Sullivan. Information must flow in and out so that there is less of an echo chamber effect. People with nothing but themselves to talk to start thinking weird nonsense… Blocking Russia from internet access kind of plays into Putin Huilo’s hands, IMHO, without actually helping bring about domestic discussion of this Ukrainian war in Russia…

    1. JamminJ

      I think that sentiment is based on an ideal that has never existed in Russia.
      It’s not as though this country has ever had an open internet free from censorship. If a nation has a Great Firewall, or can selectively ban external news organizations… then the damage is already done from within.

      The thing that makes isolation better than censorship, is that the people will KNOW that they no longer have external sources of information. They will SEE that the Internet only works for state-owned news. They can see the walls of the echo chamber.
      As it stood before, people thought they were getting “fair and balanced” news. The censorship was specific and the public wasn’t as aware that they were in the echo chamber. Propaganda works best when it’s disguised as an open forum.

    2. dvv

      What “significant reduction”? My email server is as busy being hit with spam as it’s always been. And I even see an uptick in the amount of spam that gets through GMail spam filters.

  14. John D.

    “Immoral” ? Why don’t you ask the people being slaughtered in Ukraine to switch places with you and your regular Russian people, they still have Internet access which you can enjoy.

  15. js

    Cutting off Russians from the internet and access to non-state sources of information is doing Putin’s job for him. It’s an utterly moronic idea that’s nothing but corporate virtue signaling, but that’s what we’re down to at this point.

    1. JamminJ

      Putin wants to cut off and censor western social media influence. But the Internet is more than just social media. Russian make lots of money, and bring in billions to the Russian economy by participating in the global marketplace.
      Putin does NOT want that revenue stream cut off.

  16. The irony

    President Andrew Sullivan said cutting a whole population off the Internet will stop disinformation coming from that population — but it also stops the flow of truth.

    “Without the Internet, the rest of the world would not know of atrocities happening in other places,” Sullivan wrote. “And without the Internet, ordinary citizens of many countries wouldn’t know what was being carried out in their name. Our best hope, however dim, is that those supporting an aggressive regime will change their support. More information can help, even as disinformation circulates. We need a better understanding of what is and is not disinformation.”

    This guy probably has been living under a rock but if we want to talk about aggressive regimes we need to look at ourselves. Look at how many coups and wars the united states has been apart of.

  17. twowheeler

    I fully support the Ukrainian people against the Russian invasion, but I am not sure that having western businesses walk away from Russian markets is a good idea. Whether it is Russian oil and gas, cell phone sales, and now Internet links, all of these are voids that Chinese producers will be only too happy to fill. Once all of our ties are severed, the west will no longer have any leverage to use to modify Russian behavior. I don’t believe anyone knows where that will take us or what the payback will look like. The only thing I am sure of is that Putin will find a way to take revenge on the west.

  18. Jimmy Masson

    If the Kremlin has already blocked access to sites that may tell the truth to Russian Citizens, why does Andrew Sullivan think they’ll allow any other non-propaganda in? Maybe instead they could step up VOA Russia shortwave broadcasts.

    It’s time to fully disconnect Russia from the global community – business, finance, travel, and yes, the Internet also needs to be stopped until this invasion is over. These are the best way to put pressure on citizens to overthrow a corrupt and autocratic regime short of war.

    1. Kent Brockman

      Economic warfare( which this ‘shutting off’ is only one aspect of) is war(minus the shooting and bombing) and has led to real war many times(US oil embargo of Japan being but one example). In today’s situation ratching up the stakes may play well politically but it also serves to inflame tensions ever further. The world can’t afford this as miscalcution on either side can lead to utter disaster for us all. Assuming the other side will rationally accept our upping the ante is rather stupid. The West has far more to lose than Russia in a game of tit for tat, even assuming this doesn’t lead to all out war.

  19. JamminJ

    China and Russia share a border. Anything that ‘could’ have gone to or come from China, already do.

    There’s a difference between imports and exports. Both can be sanctioned, but both have different effects.
    Russian energy exports can go to China, sure, but they already do. It’s not like China is going to buy more than they really need or more than they already do just to be helpful. And even if Russia found a NEW buyer for their exports, the effect of sanctions can be see in the MUCH lower prices they can get for their exports. Supply and Demand forces sanctioned exports to lower prices. Same for imports.
    For cell phones and other technology imports. Yeah, they already get them from China. But it’ll cost more if Chinese companies have to risk smuggling sanctioned tech to Russia. Imports become lower quality at higher prices.

    Sanctions don’t completely cut off everything, but they do tighten the economics quite a bit.

  20. muyserio

    Using BGP tables, it is possible to find out which carriers are still doing business with Russia and publish the names of those carriers; that may trigger US companies to get away from those Russian players……

  21. JamminJ

    Senate passed a bill (S.3600). It’s bipartisan so it will also pass the House and be signed into law in short order.

    SEC. 2242. Required reporting of certain cyber incidents.
    “A covered entity that makes a ransom payment as the result of a ransomware attack against the covered entity shall report the payment to the Agency [CISA] not later than 24 hours after the ransom payment has been made.”

    “COVERED ENTITY.—The term ‘covered entity’ means an entity in a critical infrastructure sector, as defined in Presidential Policy Directive 21, that satisfies the definition established by the Director in the final rule issued pursuant to section 2242(b).”

    This means any US businesses classified as part of “critical infrastructure”, will soon have to report ransomware. It might be illegal for these entities to pay ransomware to Russian cyber crime groups.
    The next step would be to add these groups to the SDN managed by the US Treasury OFAC. Then it will be illegal for all private sector companies to pay ransom to Russian groups.

  22. Pablose

    Since when criminal activity becomes actvivity of really educated people what about those not educated people who dream about big money bling bling and wealth of criminal activity and even this article words are so complicated i cant understood not a single word…what was even the crime here ? If this one is crime then low educated street thugs have no ways to become criminal
    Conclusion criminal activity now days are for only smart and educated people
    Back in the days maybe some street thug could get the msr machine to work get some dumps and go do some shopping and flashing the bling bling and swag up in the hood but now days even this door is closed so no crimes for non educated people as educated people not use not educated thugs for money cleaning as we have crypto currencies now cryptocurrencies will do the job where liberty reserve failed big time so nothing left for uneducated gangstas only people with good education can do criminal activity

  23. Sercom

    This will block Russian ips from accessing U.S. websites etc. If the people or hackers route through another country via vpn, vps, tor, or other means how does this protect us from anything? Most hackers are using decentralized networks to stage these attacks from anywhere. This is just making it harder for the average Russian to get U.S. media entertainment. Sounds like someone is demanding them to cut Russia people off from our media?

    1. JamminJ

      Routes to VPN providers outside of Russian should also be affected.
      Of course, as long as any backbone routes exists, hackers will use those, while civilians won’t know how.
      So it’s whack-a-mole until their completely isolated.

  24. Jason M

    If the purpose is of the disconnection is to disrupt any wrong doing all that aid being done is to disconnect Russia from western media. The wrongdoers are using vps, vpn? tor, or other decentralized networks to do their dirty deeds! How does this do anything but isolate everyday Russians from getting the truth? U.S or Russia is forcing this?

    1. JamminJ

      No, that’s not the purpose.
      Its the economy.

      The Internet is more than just social media and news media. Every Russian that uses the Internet for work, perhaps they sell products or services to customers in Europe, is going to have a much harder time.
      Any economy of a modern nation will need to bring in money from outside. Some are “tourist dollars”, some are exports of commodities like Oil/Gas.

      The purpose is to squeeze all sides of the Russian economy, to make them feel the war even when they don’t see it. Yes, innocent capitalist civilians are impacted too. But if they want participate at all in the global economy, then they have to ask their leader why the world doesn’t want to play with them.

      1. Anonim

        I still don’t feel any unconformable from this sanctions, but you – americans and europeans people do. I drink my cola right now, eating hamburger from McDonald, seeing how gas prices are become lower in Russia and seeding torrents with some shady documents about USA. Good luck with your “sanctions”, hehehe.

        1. JamminJ

          Like most things in global economics. It takes time.

          Changes in the economy will trickle through weeks or months. It took years for the Soviet system to collapse, and it was the economy that did it.

        2. Alex

          Putin’s bot gasoline in Russia only rises. I’m from Russia

  25. Alex

    You can’t block access to the Internet. Putin only dreams of this. Access to information is access to freedom. Putin is Hitler with a nuclear bomb. He always lies. Be smart.
    I’m from Russia and I know what I’m talking about

  26. Alex

    You can’t block access to the Internet. Putin only dreams of this. Access to information is access to freedom. Putin is Hitler with a nuclear bomb. He always lies. Be smart.

    I’m from Russia and I know what I’m talking about

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  28. steven wallace

    The looking glasses for both Cogent and Lumen show these providers continue to offer full transit to Russian networks. For example the routes for is active in both networks. It’s obvious from Lumen’ looking glass that they peer directly with ROSTELECOM-AS.

    It’s my understanding that they may have terminating direct transit service to customers in Russia, but they are fully supporting traffic to/from Russian ISPs and the rest of the Internet.

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