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Can Russia really cut itself off from the global internet?

With suspicions raised that Russia will soon disconnect from the internet, Edith Cowan University’s Dr Mohiuddin Ahmed and Prof Paul Haskell-Dowland take us through how this might be done and the impact it would have.

The invasion of Ukraine has triggered a significant digital shift for Russia. Sanctions imposed by governments around the world – together with company closures or mothballing – have significantly impacted the country.

A plethora of events have escalated the invasion into the digital world, with cyberattacks, cybercriminals taking sides, and even an IT army of civilians being mobilised by Ukraine.

The sanctions imposed on Russia have not only directly hit its economy (and by extension the global economy), but are now also threatening Russian citizens’ access to the internet.

It’s expected the nation will limit its reliance on the global internet very soon. Although a complete disconnection isn’t yet confirmed, even a partial disconnection would be a difficult task. And the repercussions of Russia’s growing digital isolation for its citizens will be immense.

Increasing digital isolation

More than 85pc of Russians use the internet. Since the Ukraine invasion began, people in Russia have found themselves increasingly deprived of online services such as Facebook, Twitter and even Netflix – with Russia either limiting access to sites, or providers withdrawing services.

Major financial players have pulled out too, including Apple Pay, Google Pay and most major credit card providers, significantly impacting e-commerce.

Russia itself has introduced a digital divide with the rest of the world, despite the fact this may further cripple its economy. And it is now expected to start withdrawing from the global internet by 11 March, according to Kremlin documents.

Russia has long imposed control over state-run media, but tolerated a level of free access to content and services through the internet. While such freedoms have been progressively diminished, citizens have still been able to stay connected to the wider web.

This open access is now being revoked. Russia will assert dominance over internet services and impose strict censorship on local media organisations in an attempt to control information and reinforce Kremlin propaganda.

As part of this plan, the Russian government has directed businesses to move their web hosting and business services to Russian servers.

Russia’s vision for a ‘splinternet’

While it may be assumed a .ru website is located in Russia, this isn’t always the case. Large organisations will often host their services in remote regions’ servers. This may be to gain access to enhanced technologies, increase the resilience of the service, or to benefit from reduced service costs.

A good example would be a content delivery network, where content is hosted on multiple servers around the world. This ensures fast access for users and resilience to outages and malicious attacks.

Relocating an individual website to a new server is relatively easy, but doing this on a national scale is a huge logistical challenge. It’s unknown whether Russia even has the capacity and capability to deliver the required resources.

With mounting pressure from the West, Russia may create its own version of the ‘great firewall of China’. With this, the Chinese government implemented a number of measures allowing it to regulate and censor the domestic internet as it sees fit.

Although the current demands from the Kremlin relate to service availability – and migrating websites and services to Russian territories – this could be the first stage of a national disconnection from the global internet.

It’s worth noting, however, that even if Russia adopts a domestic internet, it will still need to keep some bridges with the global internet to communicate with other countries.

In 2019, Russia tested disconnecting the country from the internet. There are few details relating to how long this test ran.

The test was reportedly successful, but not adopted. It could be the Kremlin stopped short of a full disconnection due to Russia’s reliance on global services, such as social media and financial gateways.

With Russia now becoming increasingly isolated from global networks, it’s potentially easier to implement network changes that would grant the Kremlin full control of Russia’s internet.

Repercussions for Russia and beyond

Disconnecting from the global internet and imposing censorship will inevitably slow down democratic progress in Russia. It will also impact the country’s technological development. Russia is already facing significant chip shortages and a loss of access to advanced telecommunication technologies, including deliveries from Ericsson and Nokia.

Even if Russia successfully creates its own separate internet, this would be challenging for citizens to accept. Until recently, Russian citizens have enjoyed the benefits of the global internet, and they will likely be concerned at its disappearance. The social impact would be incredibly difficult to manage.

And while virtual private networks have previously been used within Russia to maintain anonymity, or access censored sources, a properly implemented set of controls could effectively block the use of such techniques.

Given the amount of cybercrime regularly attributed to Russian sources, you might imagine Russia’s withdrawal from the global internet would make it a more secure space for everyone else. But while isolating Russia will have an initial impact, cybercriminal gangs and state-sponsored attacks will quickly return as perpetrators find ways to escape domestic controls.

In fact, state-sponsored attacks will likely increase in the coming months as Russia seeks retribution against the countries (and organisations) that imposed sanctions on the country.

If cyber warfare reaches heightened levels, other nations will have to focus more on their defence capabilities to protect their infrastructure. We could see the digital economy reshape itself, as it tries to contend with increased Russian threats.

The Conversation

By Dr Mohiuddin Ahmed and Prof Paul Haskell-Dowland

Dr Mohiuddin Ahmed is a lecturer in computing and security at Edith Cowan University whose research spans blockchain, edge computing, AI and national security. Paul Haskell-Dowland is professor of cybersecurity practice and associate dean for computing and security at the university and has more than 20 years’ experience in cybersecurity research and education.

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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.

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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.

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Aviation and Telecom Industries Reach Compromise on 5G Deployment

The Voice Of EU | In a significant development, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest mobile network operators in the United States, have agreed to delay the deployment of 5G services following requests from the aviation industry and the Biden administration. This decision marks a crucial compromise in the long-standing dispute between the two industries, which had raised concerns over the potential interference of 5G with flight signals.
The aviation industry, led by United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, had been vocal about the risks of 5G deployment, citing concerns over the safety of flight operations. Kirby had urged AT&T and Verizon to delay their plans, warning that proceeding with the deployment would be a “catastrophic failure of government.” The US Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the issue further highlighted the need for a solution.
In response, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) head Steve Dickson sent a letter to the mobile networks, requesting a two-week delay to reassess the potential risks. Initially, AT&T and Verizon were hesitant, citing the aviation industry’s two-year preparation window. However, they eventually agreed to the short delay, pushing the deployment to January 19.
The crux of the issue lies in the potential interference between 5G signals and flight equipment, particularly radar altimeters. The C-Band spectrum used by 5G networks is close to the frequencies employed by these critical safety devices. The FAA requires accurate and reliable radar altimeters to ensure safe flight operations.

Airlines in the US have been at loggerheads with mobile networks over the deployment of 5G and its potential impact on flight safety.

Despite the concerns, both the FAA and the telecoms industry agree that 5G mobile networks and airline travel can coexist safely. In fact, they already do in nearly 40 countries where US airlines operate regularly. The key lies in reducing power levels around airports and fostering cross-industry collaboration prior to deployment.
The FAA has been working to find a solution in the United States, and the additional two-week delay will allow for further assessment and preparation. AT&T and Verizon have also agreed to not operate 5G base stations along runways for six months, similar to restrictions imposed in France.
President Joe Biden hailed the decision to delay as “a significant step in the right direction.” The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and South Korea have also reported no unsafe interference with radio waves since the deployment of 5G in their regions.
As the aviation and telecom industries continue to work together, it is clear that safe coexistence is possible. The delay in 5G deployment is a crucial step towards finding a solution that prioritizes both safety and innovation. With ongoing collaboration and technical assessments, the United States can join the growing list of countries where 5G and airlines coexist without issue.

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